The Experience

Neda Ghias, Salem Gospel Ministries

When I registered for Health Promotion Program planning, I didn’t really know what I was going to learn in the class because I had never taken a health promotion class. As someone who personally loves volunteering and helping out other communities, I was excited to be able to work closely with the African American immigrant community of Salem Gospel Ministries.  The class gave us the opportunity to actually attend a Sunday service at Salem Gospel Ministries, which really helped understand the community, their needs, the general population (adults vs. children), cultural differences, and language barriers. All of the members were very friendly and inviting, and even had a personal English translator for our class members since they are mostly French speaking. The mission of Salem Gospel Ministries is to develop a community within these immigrants to help them become accustomed and integrated into the society. Church for them is a community that they can lean on for help with any problems they are experiencing, or even just a place to come and let go of the everyday hassles.

Within this community and the HPRM class, our goal was to understand how aware the community is about autism. Based on a survey my class developed and the responses from the church members, we noticed there was very little to no awareness about what autism is. We then developed a needs assessment to understand the needs of the community and ways to bring awareness. After developing a needs assessment my group members and I continued to make a lesson plan, workshops, brochures, and flyers to bring awareness. We then presented all the materials we gathered and created throughout the semester to my professor and the church leaders.

My expectations while working with this community was that they would have some basic understanding of what autism, that we would have a hard time developing a program plan that they can understand and actually take something away from, and lastly, I didn’t think they would be as interested or open to our class and all the different projects. But throughout the semester, I learned that there really is a lack of awareness and understanding about what autism is and what symptoms parents should be keeping their eyes open for throughout a child’s first years and also later in life. It is important for parents of children with autism to know that there are support groups that can help them cope with this and that they aren’t alone. It is never too late to start a child on medications for autism but it’s important to give proper resources and information to them.  Developing a program plan for the community members to actually learn from wasn’t too hard especially because we were able to go to Salem Gospel Ministries and understand really the community we were working with and the space we had to hold the workshops. Lastly, church members were really interested in our project, working with us, and helping in any way they could. They were all very friendly and actually interested on the different projects we were working on. Dr. Adrien was the pastor of the church and he was very informative and helpful with answering questions and being able to really make the Sunday church service enjoyable for everyone.

Some connections I made throughout the semester between my volunteer work and my health promotion program class were the importance of programs like these and how they can help these kinds of communities grow and learn about real-life problems. With all the different programs that were created by my classmates and I, we were really able to give a great overview of problems they seemed to not know too much about after reviewing the survey results. The lessons I learned while working with this community are the importance of understanding different levels of awareness, knowledge, and experience from immigrants. It is always important to consider these especially when creating lesson plans and needs assessment. I definitely would be interested in registering for another CSLP learning program to reach out to other communities that need the help.


Chelsia Melendez , Community of Hope

Community development through nonprofit growth can improve the quality of life for people in the community that have been historically marginalized. Community of Hope, a nonprofit based in southwest D.C., provides services for low-income families to have access to quality healthcare, housing and financial support. Community of Hope’s unique strategy including their preventive care, wraparound services, government and donor partnerships allows the organization to tackle chronic issues that affect the standard of living of the residents and family members in Ward 8 and 7. Nonprofits can bridge that gap caused by the lack of public and private sector solutions to the decline in affordable housing, access to hospitals and clinics in their area. Low-income families are the most vulnerable to the constant and recent changes in the healthcare, housing and education policies. Community of Hope provides these population with the support needed to navigate these policy changes and provides solutions while preventing further homelessness, joblessness and health issues with their business structure and strategy.

The Global Emerging Markets course is an international business course that seeks to address, highlight and find solutions that countries, governments and business face to investment, economic and business development. In the course, Global Emerging Markets, the first half of course focused on the issues emerging markets face in attracting and maintaining foreign direct investment and business development. The second half of the source focuses on the challenges individual businesses have in addressing the market, country and community demands to make their organization a successful company in the market they seek to operate in. Nonprofits can act in a complementary way where they provide services, products and support were government regulation, business services and country environment are lacking. For example, my in-class case study we learned that Singapore as the Central Provident Fund, which is a publicly managed mandatory savings program to provide all Singaporeans with social security. The program provides homeownership benefits, national healthcare, family insurance and the investment needs of the population by demanding a high savings rate from the nation. The Singaporean government provides a solution to affordable, accessible and quality housing and healthcare that many other countries lack. Indian and American governments lack the regulation and policies to provide affordable healthcare for the whole nation forcing many people to pay out of pocket, receive poor treatment and not have access to quality health care in general. In the case of the United States, government policies like Affordable Health Care, which aimed to provide universal health care, is slow to full implementation alongside changes in administration the future is uncertain. Nonprofit hospitals and clinics care directly address the health care needs of the community rather than just providing services their investors and shareholders deem as important. Community of Hope has three clinics throughout D.C one of them in Ward eight that provides behavioral health care, dental care, primary care and maternal-child care services to treat illness and health issues. In addition, Community of Hope also provides preventive care services like emotional wellness counseling, reproductive care coordinators and support groups that support low income population with the resources, information, mentorship and support. Community of Hope provides treatment and access to quality health care in areas of D.C. where reaching a primary hospital may be challenging. The main strategy that differentiates Community of Hope is their preventive care solutions to tackle problems like teen pregnancy, obesity and diabetes that affect low income communities more than higher income communities.

Community of Hope’s wrap-around strategy provides a holistic approach to problems that exacerbate each other. As a result, Community of Hope has housing services that provide housing for short periods of time, to transitional housing and permanent housing, all with preventive programs and financial freedom programs. Their unique housing program works to end homelessness through support such as employment specialist, child care programs and housing search support to transition homeless families to permanent housing. Community of Hope’s third strategy is partnering with other nonprofits such as Martha’s Table in 2018 with the shared mission to provide quality educational programs, healthy food and social services support. Government partnership’s also play a large role in increasing city and community development. Community of Hope partnered with Department of Health to launch a Healthy Start program that address toxic stressors for expecting parents and families with infants and young children through educating families on emotional development and support during and after pregnancy.

Community of Hope achieved scale because of their operational strategy but also their financial approach. Community of Hope, unlike most nonprofits, has a constant revenue stream from their clinics because of their patient fees. As a result, thirty-two percent of their revenue comes from clinics giving them flexibility and ability to reach nearly ten thousand patients a year and close to 3,000 people in their housing program. Their rapid growth is also attributed to change in leadership. Kelly McShane become CEO in 2001 and since then their budget as increased from 1.8 million to 16 million growing their impact to 6 times more families and low income individuals. Community of Hope has changed the way I thought about nonprofit impact on city and community development since they maintain scale along with providing quality solutions. Their ability to reach scale with good quality is due to their preventive care, wraparound services and donor partnership, along with their financial revenue approach. My work in the service cite is behind the scenes which allows me to see how the organization functions administratively and logistically. I attended meetings and helped coordinate their upcoming event, the Holiday Market, which is an event on December 9, 2017 that brings local business to sell and explain their services allowing the community to come together for the holidays while allowing local business to market their services and products. I also help organize more than $15,000 dollars’ worth of monetary gifts to the families and coordinate other volunteer involvement. It has been helpful to work in the development office because I can see how all of the services of the organization connects to their greater mission of improving the quality of life of low-income families.

I argue that the main connection to Kogod’s international business course is to include the role of nonprofits on a global and local scale in tackling healthcare and housing issues has a way to improve city and community development. Nonprofits can be impactful in countries that government regulation and policies are lacking in providing incentives for business and foreign direct investments. Improving quality of life in low income areas leads to city development which can increase business and investment in the community.


Paola Velez, The Latino Student Fund

Hello- my name is Paola Velez, I am an International Relations major and an International Business Minor. The class that I am connecting this CSLP credit to is my gateway course into SIS, which is International Development. The organization that I’ve had the pleasure volunteering with this semester is The Latino Student Fund at the National Cathedral site. The mission of the Latino Student Fund is to provide opportunities towards a strong academic foundation for underserved PreK through 12th grade students, mainly of Hispanic descent, along with their families in order to promote higher education and professional leadership. The Latino student fund offers these struggling, low-income families year-round out of school tutoring and educational programs for both the children and adults. The goal of this wonderful non-profit organization is to provide these at-risk students and their families with continuous increasing levels of educational achievement.

The social issues that The Latino Student Fund addresses is the alleviation of educational barriers for first generation students towards achieving and having access to higher education and providing the support to the families to be strong advocates for their kids. What I was doing at the service site was tutoring children on their school subjects like math, reading and writing. I was also helping most of the children with their language skills and development. My expectations of this program was that it was going to be an extremely disorganized organization (because it was a non-profit and that is typically the stereotype that goes along with them) and I also expected that the children were going to be challenging to work with. But I was proven wrong because this site turned out to be one of the most organized and beautiful sites ran by workers and volunteers who were devoted to the organizations mission of empowerment and helping their community.

The connections that I’ve made between my volunteer work and my International Development class are that first off, these students and their parents have migrated to the States directly from developing countries. Most of these families have migrated to the United States in hopes of a better life, futures, and opportunities. In International Development we learn that there is a learning crisis in developing countries where children are either poorly educated or denied an education altogether. I’ve always said that I am a strong believer in the fact that education is a fundamental human right that everyone has the right to receive. Therefore, some lessons that I’ve learned while working in the community is never to take my education and the opportunities I’ve received for granted—because there are people, like the ones who receive services from the Latino Student Funds who are not as fortunate as me and have to try ten times harder to prosper in the U.S. All in all, I’ve learned that education is the gate way out to overcome poverty and The Latino Student Fund works towards leveling out the playing field for students whom English is their second language and who encounter disparities in access to education.

Emily Sutherland, Horace Mann Elementary School

When I tell people I want to be a farmer but that I got to school in DC I get some strange looks. American University is the perfect fit for me, but still I find myself dreaming about the days where I lay down after a long day of working outside. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning. Sometimes, though, classroom lectures and studying get old. I would much prefer learning from experience in the ‘real world’ and moving while I’m doing it. The CSLP program enabled me to do just that. I gained valuable gardening experience while learning about how city children interact with the environment.

This semester, I spent forty hours working in the Horace Mann Elementary School’s “Mann Farm” where I managed twenty raised beds and got them ready for winter. I harvested, cleared, and covered beds, reorganized the equipment, and conducted some light carpentry repairing the beds. I also got to spend a few days working on the rooftop garden and learning about vertical farming towers. From both of these, the children eat fresh-grown salads served at lunch. The mission of Horace Mann is to “learn within and beyond [their] school walls” which I can attest they succeeded in. By providing a joyful learning environment, Horace Mann encourages students to reach their full potential.

Going into the semester, I was expecting to spend a lot of time with the kids and teaching them about how important healthy, fresh food is. However, I only spent two days with the kids, as this portion of the program was already full of volunteers and running smoothly. I was just as happy to do what was needed, which was garden. I went to work every day excited about the quiet time I would have tending to the raised beds and making visible improvements. I learned that I really appreciate tangible, immediate results, like harvesting the final tomatoes from a plant, clearing the bed, and covering it with weed cloth to prepare for winter. The work was hard, but fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

In my environmental health class, we spent some time learning about food systems and how the food we eat, and how that food is grown and processed, impacts our health. For example we learned, and I did independent research on, how food itself becoming less nutritious. Coupled with how risks to farmworkers from pesticide exposure, these two issues are direct health risks humans face as a result of food systems. Indirect problems tend to have more widespread effects, and these could include fertilizer runoff causing nutrient pollution in bodies of water. This runoff then harms aquatic populations and these contaminants can also enter our drinking water supply. No matter how you slice it, food plays a large role in human health. Mann Farm is pesticide free and uses natural fertilizers, minimizing their environmental impacts as much as possible. Around the school are rain gardens, an apiary, and compost bins to encourage environmentally friendly practices.

One key takeaway that I learned at Horace Mann is that children absorb pretty much all the information you throw at them. Third graders are more intelligent and capable than I gave them credit for, and they were eager to learn about and engage in gardening. These children will take the information they are learning about organic farming into their homes and hopefully throughout their future lives. Mann Farm’s coordinator, Amy Jagodnik, knows that kids are more likely to eat something that they helped make, and sure enough almost all of the kids at lunch took some salad that they had harvested less than an hour before. By educating the next generation of policy makers, farmers, educators, and doctors from a young age, I believe the health of the environment and humans are in much better hands.

Rachel Bernardo, Higher Achievement Program

Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. Recent research by the National Institute for Early Education Research has revealed that African-American and Hispanic/Latino children are generally 7-12 months behind in reading skills and 9-10 months behind in math skills when they enter kindergarten. During the transition from elementary to middle school, students from all socioeconomic groups typically show a decline in academic achievement. These gaps hold several economic, societal, and public health implications. The term “achievement gap” describes when one group of students performs better or worse than another group in terms of achievement. As such, opportunity and achievement gaps are inextricably connected.

The mission of Higher Achievement Program (HAP) is to close the opportunity gap during the critical middle school years. Higher Achievement provides a rigorous year-round learning environment which includes caring role models and high standard. At Higher Achievement, we call the middle school students “scholars,” since they are all driven to help bridge the opportunity gap in their communities. The after-school program provides scholars with homework help, mentoring, and high school placement advisors. The social issues they address in mentoring include the four social justice pillars: voice, freedom, justice, and solidarity. The scholar population has a demographic makeup of 80% African-American and 10% Latino children. Students in communities served by Higher Achievement are 10 times more likely to drop out of high school than are their peers in more affluent communities. In contrast, 95 percent of Higher Achievement scholars who complete the program advance to top academic high schools.

When I arrive at Marie Reed Elementary School in Ward 1, I begin by assisting with study hall. I am placed in a room of about fifteen sixth graders and answer questions as needed. Then, I lead the scholars to the cafeteria where they are given dinner. After dinner, we begin a two-hour mentoring session. I am paired with the same two scholars each week, Roberto and Christian, and facilitate the lesson plan for the day. The lesson plans are pre-written plans that focus on the four social pillars. The lesson plans typically include an article highlighting an injustice that helps form a conversation and pave the way for an activity. For example, last week, in conclusion of the unit “Voice,” the scholars exercised their voice by writing a letter or a speech about a topic that they believe limits the opportunities and privileges of others.

Although my mentee group behaves most of the time, my expectations have been challenged in terms of my patience. Although I knew I would need to practice lots of patience, it has definitely been tested many times. During study hall, the scholars typically have trouble paying attention and staying focused. We try to help them stay focused, but recognize these scholars have already been in school all day and are very tired. Often times, behavioral issues may overshadow their many strengths, but each scholar has the potential to succeed given the resources and opportunities.

I have been able to make many connections between my volunteer work and my health promotion class. Through our coursework, I learned about the impact education has on health. Healthy People 2020 is a collaborative initiative of the United States Department of Health and Human Services which guides the national prevention agenda. Leading Health Indicators (LHIs) were selected by the initiative to communicate high-priority health issues and actions that can be taken to address them. Education was selected as one of the key LHIs of the social determinants of health. Those with more education tend to experience better health compared to those with less education. Therefore, efforts to address health should include making quality education widely accessible to all populations. The target for 2020 is to increase the percentage of students in public schools graduating with a high school diploma to 87%, which would be an 8% increase from 2010-2011.

I learned many things while working for this organization, including the severe education inequalities in DC. Higher Achievement Program helped me understand the need for programs like these in the communities it serves. Although more work has to be done, especially at a larger scale, these programs are extremely beneficial in closing the achievement gap. I had no idea this program would transform me both personally and academically, sparking my interest to continue to fight for social injustices.

Jendelly Veloz, Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc.

Being raised first-generation American by parents who immigrated from the Dominican Republic and knew absolutely nothing about the United States, except that achieving the “American Dream” was extremely interesting, contrary to popular belief. My parents fled from the Dominican Republic in their late 20’s, in hopes of finding better job opportunities, less delinquency, the ability to voice their opinions, and overall, a stable and secure lifestyle. Growing up, my brothers and I were taught two things: 1) Always Stand For What You Believe in and 2) Be The Change You Wish To See in the World.

While attending American University, I combined my interests in Justice, Law, and Criminology with my burning desire to implement change on some integral level, but first, I needed to understand the underworks of it. AU’s Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) allowed me to do just that by volunteering at Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc. (YLOT), an organization that provides adolescent girls, who have, or may potentially, come in contact with the juvenile justice system. Through trauma-informed programming, YLOT fosters preventive and rehabilitative services to help its girls successfully transition into womanhood by increasing their self-awareness and developing their mental and emotional state. The non-profit organization focuses on the following five core elements: 1) ‘Encourage Teamwork’ by facilitating productive dialogue and allowing girls to communicate effectively and work collaboratively, 2) ‘Create New Opportunities’ by exposing the girls to various events, trainings, and workshops with many hands-on experiences and challenges, 3) ‘Celebrate Accomplishments’ to empower young ladies to recognize their hard work, 4) ‘Volunteer’ to teach the young ladies to give back to their local community, and 5) ‘Have Fun and Stay Engaged’ by striving to create a safe haven for the girls, where they feel comfortable being themselves and wanting to participate in interactive programs at all times. These elements allow for volunteers and mentors, like myself, at Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc. to stay on track when mentoring the young ladies.

As part of AU’s CSLP, I was able to work 50+ hours throughout the semester, alongside YLOT’s CEO, Helen Wade. Being exposed to all aspects of the justice system and shadowing probation officers at the Superior Court truly allowed me to apply what I’ve learned in classes throughout my three years at AU to the real situations outside the classroom. I became extremely engaged in the African-American Community, and was surprised to learn about the limited resources provided to us, minorities, particularly the black people. It was definitely an eye-opener, working for Young Ladies of Tomorrow, Inc., as it provided tremendous insight on what causes crime in impoverished communities, such as the ones these young ladies find themselves in. CSLP has definitely expanded my knowledge in ‘Cities and Crime’ and has reaffirmed what my parents taught me: change starts with you, and volunteering could truly allow you to implement the change you wish to see in the world.

Kacie Sampson, Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School

My name is Kacie Sampson, I am a sophomore at American University, and I am applying my CSLP credit to my Intro to International Development, SISU 240 class. For my volunteer assignment, I have been serving at the Sonia Gutierrez Campus, which is affiliated with the larger school, the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, also based in DC.

The mission of the Carlos Rosario School, as stated on the website is “To provide education that prepares the diverse adult immigrant population of Washington, DC to become invested, productive citizens and members of American society who give back to family and community.” Simply stated, the goal of both the Carlos Rosario School and the Sonia Gutierrez Campus is to equip immigrants and marginalized members of the community with skills that not only enable personal growth, but also increase competitiveness in job seeking. The common theme of “rugged individualism” in pursuit of the “American Dream” leads to some people falling by the wayside, without much regard from those who are still competing in the race. However, while running so far ahead, many fail to recognize that not everyone has the same starting point. The Carlos Rosario School and the Sonia Gutierrez Campus seek to level out the playing field and address this often institutionalized social inequality among minorities and immigrants. By providing career classes such as nursing and culinary arts, as well as skills courses in ESL and computer literacy, Carlos Rosario and Sonia Gutierrez offer marginalized members of society resources that many Americans take for granted.

I serve as a teaching assistant in a computer literacy class of about fourteen adult students. While the teacher instructs the class on the various applications featured on Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, it is my duty to make sure that none of the students are falling behind and to answer any questions they may have. While my role seems relatively simple, it becomes complicated when one considers that: 1. The members of the class are only part-time students, meaning that they usually work full-time jobs and do not have time to study the material thoroughly; 2. The students come from diverse backgrounds with varying levels of exposure to technology before coming to the Campus; 3. Of the fourteen members, only one student speaks English as their first language, so many students are still developing their English language skills.

Coming into this experience, I was happy to be serving at the Sonia Gutierrez Campus, yet I was struggling to see how my answering a question on formatting a Word document might somehow make a positive impact on these students that I so eagerly wanted to help. Now that my service is coming to a close; however, I see that the value of my CSLP experience did not lie in what I could give to the class, but what the class could give to me. The class inspired me with their dedication to learn despite the obstacles. In the absence of many resources even I receive by going to this University, the students pressed on, relying on their work ethic and dedication, when others would have given up long ago. Another challenge this experience presented me was working within a multicultural environment. As an SIS, student, with Cross Cultural Communications under my belt, I felt that I was already pretty well prepared to work within a diverse setting. The Campus, however, presented me with new challenges as I began to understand what each of the students needed in the learning process. Some were too proud to ask for help, others needed things to be read or defined more than once, the class almost never started on time, among other things. Contrary to the DC way of fast-paced and efficient, in the class I learned the value of taking my time and making sure each student fully understood a concept before we moved on.

My service connects with my International Development class on multiple levels. To begin, the class is multicultural, which applies to the SIS emphasis on working in diverse settings; but further, the class comes from different economic backgrounds, which one may argue has an impact that is equivalent with culture on identity formation. In SISU 240, we have challenged the concept of GDP as a metric for development, stressing human development and equal access to resources as a more accurate measure of well-being. Carlos Rosario demonstrates this reality in offering those who are frequently forgotten by the market an opportunity to become more productive. This practice demonstrates that, when given the chance, individuals will become more productive, despite their socioeconomic odds. Further, my service reflects what we have learned in class in stressing the importance of education on development, as education is often one of the preliminary steps towards a more efficient, but more importantly, inclusive society.

In summation, I would like to thank CSLP, the Carlos Rosario School and the Sonia Gutierrez Campus, as well as Professor Dixon for giving me this opportunity to serve my community (even if in a small way) and grow personally. My passion lies in serving individuals who are often left with few alternatives. I hope that, as more people gain exposure to community involvement, we can create a society that works for all of its members.

Julia Remy, African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab

When I was 15, I got my first job as a lifeguard at the local YMCA. Since then I’ve worked five different jobs ranging from babysitting to swim instructor to research assistant. Despite the vast differences in work environments I have never thought about workplace violence. This is an undeniable example of the level of privilege that I’m accustomed to, as I have never faced an incident of workplace violence such as wage theft, physical or verbal abuse. Many are not as lucky, especially those that are the sole-providers for their families, aren’t native English speakers or are undocumented. Throughout my time in the Health Promotion Program Planning course I was able to work with the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab (AIHPL) to learn more about the impact of workplace violence on the African immigrant community throughout  he D.C. area.

AIPHL is a group of community leaders that aim to raise awareness of health issues impacting members of the African immigrant community. Some of their priority areas include increasing access to nutritious food, raising awareness of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and prevention of domestic and workplace violence. The community I worked with was a group of people from Francophone nations within Africa with a high concentration of Congolese and Senegalese people. As religion is a major aspect of this culture the lab does most of it work from a church in Silver Springs, MD. One Sunday morning, a group of students and I visited the church for their Sunday morning prayers, little did we know that this three-hour service was done entirely in French! As my family is French, I was able to understand and translate a good amount of the service, but three hours of religion in French was a lot! After the service, we asked the congregation to fill out a survey regarding their health behaviors including the impact of workplace violence. I was also able to speak, in broken French, to some of the members to learn more about their lives and their work environments.

I went to the church with the expectation that these people wouldn’t want to share highly personal information such as their work history or domestic violence stories. To the contrary of my expectations, they were extremely welcoming (I even got a job offer to work at refugee camp in Congo!) and willing to help us with our project but were more eager to help their community.

To be honest I was a little confused when assigned to focus on workplace violence as it was an issue I knew little about and therefor assumed was rare or non-existent. Unfortunately, I was wrong as a majority of the congregation had experienced some form of workplace violence.

I tried to combat this by creating a series of workshops focusing on the education and prevention of workplace violence while paying attention to the unique needs of this community. In the grand scheme of things, I’m doing very little to impact this vast and vibrant community, but am truly hopeful that the members will be able to recognize and report the multifaceted issue of workplace violence. In summation, this experience not only reaffirmed the privileges I have, but taught me a lot about a community I would have never interacted with if it wasn’t for American University.

Fiona Geier, Gospel Salem Ministry Church

While taking my Health Promotion Program Planning class with Professor Free, I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to get involved with the center for community engagement and service. I have always had an interest in community service, and I was excited to find out that I would be able to create a health promotion program for a community center in need. Last year, I had the opportunity to volunteer at Martha’s Table on 14th Street for my Issues in Women’s Health class. For this class, my group’s program was created to teach prevention and treatment for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer for the Gospel Salem Ministry Church in Silver Spring Maryland. This church is multi-functional and serves as a community center because it houses not only multiple different church services, but is also home to a daycare, school, and karate center.

It was a great experience to create surveys, collect data and establish a program to further inform the members of this community about cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. This program was created to mainly focus on the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, but to also teach ways on how to treat these diseases. The reason why my group chose to focus more on the prevention of these diseases rather than the treatment is because these community members where primarily from Africa and from the survey, we gathered that they had little to no knowledge on these diseases.

The program we created will take three weeks to complete and will take place on Sundays after the church service. Each Sunday will be focus on a different disease, and once the church service is over, there will be an introductory presentation and a group activity to enhance the knowledge of the diseases. Many of the members of this community are not accustomed to the American culture, and my group thought it would be a good idea to create activities that could enlighten them on the American health culture.

After creating this program and almost completing this class, I have a much greater appreciation for health promotion program planners. It takes a lot of time and effort when it comes to finding a target audience, picking a topic in which they need help learning about, and creating a program to benefit them. I have learned that many theories, models and marketing tactics that are incorporated into creating health promotion programs. When originally taking this class, I had no idea how in-depth health promotion programs had to be. Overall, I had a great experience creating this program for the Salem Gospel Ministry Church. Taking this class has given me a glimpse of what I could be doing once I graduate. I now have a greater appreciation and I am even more excited to start my career after college. It has been such a pleasure volunteering for the Salem Gospel Ministry Church and finding ways to further enhance the knowledge on cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Carly Perry, African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab

I am often asked what it is like to be a D1 student-athlete at American University. My honest answer is that college soccer is (1) time consuming (2) incredibly exhausting (physically and mentally) and (3) emotionally draining. But, in the end, playing college soccer is 100% worth it. When I committed to play Division-One soccer, I knew that activities I loved in High School- student government and volunteering- my not fit into my college schedule. Unfortunately, I was right. I am a senior this year and I have spent nowhere near the amount of time that I wanted to spend volunteering in the community and on campus.  So, when I heard about the CSLP (community service learning project) program that American University offers, I applied right away. This program is exactly what I needed this semester: a way for me to feel connected to the community and a structured program that kept me on track and organized.

Last spring, when I signed up for the Health Promotion Program Planning course with Professor Free, I did not realize that this class would work great for the CSLP credit. The purpose of this course is to learn how to create health programs for specific communities. So, the entire semester my group has worked hard to create a nutrition program plan for the community members of Montgomery Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. It has been a very cool experience to work Montgomery Baptist Church as our community partner because the church community is very diverse. Many of the members are from different countries in Africa and they greatly vary in their health needs, socio-economic status and education level. With this in-mind, my group worked hard to create a nutrition program that would appeal to majority of the members; it is called ‘Four weeks 4 Change.’

In order for my group members and I to create the nutrition plan for Montgomery Baptist Church, we went through a lot of different steps. To create this plan, we surveyed the community members, conducted research on past programs, drafted proposals and developed weekly lesson plans. Each week we met to work on our project and some weeks we received positive feedback and other weeks we were instructed to fix part of our plan. Professor Free challenged my group and we learned a lot from her feedback and her questions about our plan.  I expected to be challenged by Professor Free but I did not expect to face challenges with my group members. I did not always feel that the work was equally divided amongst us and I took on a lot of the work. But, in the end, I learned how to communicate effectively with both group members so that all of the work was done on time and done well.

I absolutely recommend any student at American University to engage in the CSLP one credit program if they are given the opportunity. The students at American University are lucky to have CSLP because those in charge are so organized, incredibly helpful and student-friendly. Personally, this has been different than any volunteer work I have done in the past.  In the past, a lot of the volunteer work I did were “one-time” events like delivering food on thanksgiving or packing shoeboxes at Christmas time. This project was an entire semester long, 40+ hours. At the beginning, I was a little concerned about how many hours I had to put into the project, but creating the nutrition program plan has been so much more fulfilling and I have learned so much more than past volunteer experiences. If I were not graduating this spring, I would engage in another community service project through the CSLP at American University.

Anisa Shafiq, Marie Reed Elementary

Hi! My name is Anisa – I’m a fifth year at American University majoring in Sociology with a personal focus and interest in education. This semester I’m mentoring at Marie Reed Elementary with American University’s D.C. Reads and the Higher Achievement Program. This entails being a mentor to a small group of 6th grade students once a week on Tuesdays after school hours. During program, my group along with all the other mentors and their groups, meet for community meeting, where we do a fun activity or two to start the day off right. After that, we meet for about an hour in our small groups. During this time my co-mentor and I spend most of our time teaching a Higher Achievement provided math curriculum to our four students. Sometimes, splitting off into two small groups is required due to our scholars’ achievement levels, and sometimes one-on-one mentoring is required. After this hour is over, all of the groups get together once again to recap the evening and have Higher Achievement deliver some announcements.

This is my second semester doing service with CSLP, and the second program I’ve worked with. My first semester, I served with KidPower. It was a very different experience than working with HAP, and at first, I was very overwhelmed at the amount of structure and guidance I seemed to be getting. I attended hours and hours of orientations and was handed a bunch of packets with tons of instructions, and this was not at all how KidPower was being run. The format of everything was so different than what I had been previously exposed to. I was very nervous at first. But as the weeks went on, I realized that it was the same basic principle – being there for these students that counted on seeing me once a week, whether that was teaching them how to do decimal division or playing a game with them. It was still being a mentor. KidPower taught me SO much – it’s the foundation that I have in regards to working with younger students. Being a mentor with HAP has allowed me to continue to do so, on a smaller scale.

George Marschall, Capital Area Food Bank & Martha’s Table

Food aid is a common theme within the international development community. Ideas circulate within “developed nations” that high income countries don’t face issues of food insecurity or food waste. In studies of international food aid, students consistently learn about “Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods” like Plumpy’nut or BP-5, Therapeutic Feeding Centers and Supplementary Feeding Programs. These concepts create a conceptual schism between our understanding of global hunger and local hunger. As a result, it becomes difficult to understand that food insecurity does not exclusively affect nations that suffer from famines and droughts. A year ago, I was fortunate enough to take my Global Hunger class with Professor Carruth who drew comparisons between domestic and international food insecurity. What I learned forced me to confront my preconceptions of food insecurity, something that has pushed me to dedicate my time to two distinct organizations with Washington, DC that are dedicated to eradicating this problem: the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) and Martha’s Table.

Responding to the imminent cutbacks to the Food Stamp Program in Washington, DC, the United Planning Organization and Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington banded together in 1980 to create the Capital Area Food Bank. The food bank is dedicated to a mission of creating access to healthy foods for all communities in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. It is the largest organization within the metro area that works to solve hunger and the various problems that come with it, notably heart disease, chronic undernutrition and diabetes. This organization depends not only on food donations from people, corporations and farms throughout the region but also volunteers who help by sorting the various donations for the communities in need. The tasks assigned to the volunteer vary greatly every week from sorting good and bad apples, categorizing foods to creating lunch bags for students and senior citizens.

Martha’s Table was founded on the principle of ensuring that children within Washington, DC are safe and have access to healthy food. Established in 1979, the founders, Dr. Veronica Maz and Father Horace B. McKenna were concerned that the 14th Street Corridor was a particularly dangerous area that children in the region needed protection from. As a result, their creation, Martha’s Table, gave students a place to go and eat after school. The expansion of the organization has been dramatic to say the least. While Martha’s Table continues to carry out its original mission of protecting children, it now dedicates itself to protecting adults and their access to safe food as well. While volunteering with this organization I worked in their food truck, which delivers food to at-risk communities within DC.

While many students who choose to take the Community Service Learning Program work with one distinct organization, I feel that working at both locations has expanded my understanding of the various efforts within Washington, DC to protect people’s access to safe and nutritional foods. Among the most interesting things I witnessed at both organizations is their completely different approach to mitigating the problem of hunger. The CAFB is primarily dedicated to redirecting food within the district. The Food Bank prevents products from being thrown in the trash and brought to the landfill, by storing them at their facility and delivering them to other organizations that bring them to community members in need. Martha’s Table is one of these very organizations that benefits from the Food Bank’s efforts.

My position at these non-profits has me working on almost every part of the food security project. I sorted and condensed the food within the Food Bank to deliver to the same organization that I helped with handing out meals to the homeless. This unique experience was baffling in the capacity that the Food Bank itself seems so distantly removed from the people suffering from Hunger but is incredibly key to the process of preventing that hunger. Martha’s Table, while magnificent in its own right, depends on the work of the volunteers at CAFB for the dissemination of food. Without Martha’s Table and organizations like it, the Food Bank would be unable to disperse donated food to the community. Washington, DC has a well-oiled machine of food security non-profits. While the amount of people suffering from food insecurity in DC is staggering, my work at these organizations has made it clear that effort is everywhere. I am grateful for all that I have been able to witness this past semester and hope that I have made an impact on the lives of some members of the community affected by hunger.

Emma Goetzinger, Green America

My name is Emma Goetzinger, and I am a sophomore. I am planning to declare a major in public health following the B.S. track and a minor in biology. I am connecting my CSLP credit to my environmental health class, and I am working with Green America. As soon as I saw that Green America was on the list of organizations that students frequently work with as part of the CSLP program and read the description, I knew that it was going to be an organization that I would be interested in. The mission of Green America is to work with the economic power and influence of consumers, investors, business, and the marketplace in order to create a just environmentally sustainable society. Green America works towards making sure that everyone in the world has access to adequate resources and has the ability to live in an environment that is healthy, clean and safe, as well as ensuring that Earth’s resources will be preserved for generations to come.

Green America’s work is focused on six main areas, which include climate, food, finance, labor, social justice and green living. Since food sustainability and access to safe and healthy food are both environmental health issues that I am interested in and that we have discussed in class, I chose to do work relating to the food area. Within the area of food, Green America concentrates on GMOs, the overuse of fertilizers and other chemicals, and the encouragement of sustainable agriculture. For example, Green America has conducted extensive research regarding multiple concerns with GMOs such as the lack of proper regulation and the development of “superweeds” and pests that are resistant to chemicals. I recently completed my first project while working with Green America, which was to create a milk map. The purpose of this milk map was to encourage Starbucks to begin offering organic milk by showing all of the other coffee chains and independent coffee shops across the country that already do so. First, I collected data and information about which coffee shops in areas around the country currently offer organic milk. Then, I organized the information into an online directory and created the actual map showing where all of the coffee shops are located. This took a while to finish, since I had to contact many of the coffee shops individually to ask them about what milk they offered.

Working with Green America has been an extremely positive and enriching experience, and I am looking forward to receiving instructions about my next project later this week. It has been a great way to get more involved in my community as well as the environmental movement, and through my work I’ve realized just how interested in environmental health I am. Many of the areas that Green America focuses on, such as climate change, food and green living are also focuses of the environmental health field.  Volunteering with an organization that researches and investigates many of the same things that I have been learning about in class has really deepened my understanding of the subject of environmental health. I feel as though the work that I’ve been doing is actually meaningful, as the health of our environment impacts us all. This makes me excited to continue working with Green America, even after the CSLP program has ended. Through this experience, I’ve definitely grown more comfortable reaching out to new people, as that was something I had to do to get this opportunity to begin with and while collecting information to use in my map. This will be an important skill that I will be able to continue to use throughout college and beyond.

Mary Ney, African Immigration Health Promotion Lab

As a public health major, in-class lectures offer plans and theories and models just waiting to be used in the real world.  You hear success stories and stories of failure, what to do and what not to do, but you never get to just do it. However, this semester I have the opportunity to just do it through Health Promotion Program Planning class in partnership with the African American Health Promotion Lab. This class allows for real world applications of concepts learned in the classroom, which enhances the overall learning experience.

Through this community partnership, we are tasked with assessing the needs of the Salem Ministries church community in order to develop a program targeting a specific issue. The African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab is committed to educating and improving the health of immigrants from the African diaspora. They specifically address health disparities within this community. My task in partnership with the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab is to address issues in child nutrition and food access, and to create a program that will improve diet choices among this population.

At the service site, my classmates and I conducted a needs assessment of the community through observations and surveys, and based our plans off this information, as well as outside research. Initially, I thought this would be a simple task—find out what a population needs and make plans to provide that. However, this task has proven to be increasingly difficult because of all the moving parts. Not only are planning logistics often difficult to coordinate, but this program also has the potential to affect the lives of people whom we have met and those we have not. Working on a real project for a community partner has been incredibly rewarding, because of this potential.

This project is particularly important to me because I work for a child nutrition program in DC area schools. This experience, as well as the concepts learned in Health Promotion Program Planning and other public health classes, have enhanced my love for health and healthy eating, and provided a tangible option to work with an issue I am passionate about.

Kaitlyn McTernan, African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care.”  Preventative measures in health care can substantially decrease both the risk and likelihood of acquiring diseases, ones that are harmful and can potentially lead to death.  In HPRM-335: Health Promotion Program Planning, we learn the appropriate ways in which to develop, implement and evaluate health promotion programs.  There is a particular emphasis on health and lifestyle risk factors and interventions.  I have been able to use and implement a variety of these strategies this course has taught me in my own service work, to name a few: needs assessment, goals and objective writing and implementing appropriate preventative measures.

In working with the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab (AIHPL), I have been completing my service work with Salem Gospel Ministry Church in Silver Spring Maryland.  The mission of AIHPL is promoting health through systematic research and evidence based community health promotion.  One of this organization’s main goals is promoting health behaviors among immigrants of African descent.  They go about achieving this goal by reaching out to immigrants of African descent to conduct various screenings, tests and health education programs.  Another goal of AIHPL is influencing health promotion paradigms and models among this population.  The models that they use are culturally competent and take into consideration social determinants of health in regards to current issues faced by immigrants. One of the main platforms of communication that they use are faith-based communities to achieve their overall program goals, which is why I have decided to volunteer with the Salem Gospel Ministry Church.  This church community is comprised of immigrants from Africa, with many of them being from Congo.  Among this population, there are high percentages of members with cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.  These numbers could be alleviated if awareness of these diseases increases and if more preventative measures are provided to the church’s congregation.

While volunteering at the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab, I have been working on writing and implementing a health promotion plan that addresses ways to decrease the presence of cardiovascular disease, various strains of cancer and diabetes in innovative ways that are both culturally competent and effective.  The first stride I took to achieve this goal was writing and conducting a needs assessment to determine the needs or “gaps” between current conditions and desired conditions or wants of the target population, in this case the immigrants of the African diaspora at Salem Gospel Ministry.  I analyzed the information that I obtained from this assessment to formulate a detailed program plan that addresses, educates and implements preventative measures for cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes with a goal of decreasing the severity of or number of members who have these diseases.  My program consists of a three-day workshop, with one day being dedicated to each of the three diseases.  Each day of the program has an educational component followed by an activity that reinforces what they have learned, which addresses the varying learning styles present in the community and allows all members to learn.  Additionally, after the conclusion of each day, preventative services, such as blood pressure tests, cholesterol screenings and many others will be offered to the members.

When first deciding to undertake this task, I was unsure of what to expect but was filled with excitement, as I knew it was a great opportunity to gain experience in a career path that I am considering pursuing in my future endeavors.  I expected to be confronted with the obstacle of overcoming the language barrier between myself, who only speaks English, and the members of this church who primarily speak French.  However, this was a hurdle that was easily jumped over as they have a translator present during all services and church related functions.  Additionally, this population is extremely welcoming to others who come from very different backgrounds than themselves. This experience was an extremely rewarding one that I have gained a wealth of knowledge and experience from.  Through working with this community, I have learned that education and prevention are key components in deterring the presence of diseases.  Overall, this program has solidified Ben Franklin’s wise words that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound, if not more, of care.

Hannah Jacks, The Family Place

As a junior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Spanish and Public Administration & Policy, my interests lie heavily in the crossover between politics and community work. Fortunately, I was able to connect my two interests through the CSLP program, by linking my community work to my Spanish class, SPAN-456: Latin American Chronicles. In my Spanish class, we have covered various topics through analyzing works from Latin American politicians, revolutionaries, and authors. This has provided me great insight into the history of Latin American government and culture, both ancient and recent, and has truly enriched my experience volunteering as an Assistant ESL Instructor at The Family Place DC.

The Family Place is a nonprofit organization serving the immigrant community in Washington, DC. The organization strives to “empower low-income families and to foster the optimal development of their young children through educational and support services.” In other words, they wish to help as many as they can by offering classes and services through a variety of programs, including Family Literacy, Family Wellness, and Family Stability. The most popular classes offered at The Family Place are English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, in which they offer both beginner and intermediate levels. Other classes include Parenting, Spanish Literacy, and Nutrition classes. An overwhelming majority of students at The Family Place are Spanish-speaking Latino immigrants, and their ages range from 18 to 70 years old. The organization is very true to its name, in that students tend to be so comfortable coming to class every day and enjoying lunch and gossiping with each other that it almost feels like family. The nonprofit does a fantastic job at making all students feel comfortable and ready to learn by offering a free lunch for students and always offering help in any way possible. In fact, many students have so much fun in the English classes that it’s hard to believe they are learning so much.

At The Family Place, I assume the role of an Assistant ESL Instructor. Every Wednesday, I assist in the beginner English classes by working directly with students and leading some lessons on grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. My expectations for my service-learning experience at The Family Place were pretty clear: I expected to help by giving a lot of individualized attention to students and doing what the instructor asked of me. As a matter of fact, my position has changed a great deal since I first began. I have assumed a more central role in the English classes, instructing the class as a whole and leading the class more than I expected. Rather than simply doing what the instructor asks of me, I often use my own knowledge and perception to realize what the class needs, and act independently. The ESL instructor seems to be very thankful that I have experience teaching English and can help in a more substantial way than simply making copies. Taking on this more central role has been both difficult and rewarding. While I hadn’t originally noticed it, the number of different English levels among students in the class is huge. It is often extremely frustrating to repeat a lesson numerous times to a part of the class that is at a lower level, while the other students understand the lesson the first time it is taught. However, it is very important to make sure that all students learn – not just the more advanced students. Therefore, it becomes really rewarding once all the students master a subject. Many students have been taking the beginner classes for years, and have still not advanced to the intermediate class, so it is an unspoken rule to work extra hard to make sure these students feel like they are working this hard for a reason.

While working at The Family Place, I have certainly learned many lessons. One such lesson, which I learned both at The Family Place and in SPAN-456, is to never generalize a community. Although the nonprofit helps immigrants, it is important to recognize that the immigrant community is not homogeneous. Every person comes from a different background, community, and family. It is also extremely important to be welcoming, open, and consistent when working at The Family Place, and at any community-based organization. It is imperative to gain the trust of the individuals you intend to help, and to do this, one must become a part of the community rather than remain an outsider looking in. This being said, one must consistently show up to volunteer and show a sense of vulnerability in order to be seen as equals by the students.

By taking on the role of Assistant ESL Instructor at The Family Place, I have learned a great deal about the individuals I work with, and also about the importance of community-based work. I feel like I have escaped a bubble that I’ve been living in at American University, and had real-life experience working with people who are very different than me. Above all, I’ve had a great time learning about the community and playing a valuable part in the everyday lives of the students.


Jenna Green, National Presbyterian School

My name is Jenna, and I am a public health major. This semester my friend told me about the National Presbyterian School and the after school programs there, and I immediately found interest in working there. Fortunately, a seat in Dr. Enchautegui’s adolescent Psychology class opened up, and after reading about CSLP, I wanted to try combining my work at the school with my psychology class.

The National Presbyterian School is located on Nebraska Avenue between American University’s campus and Tenleytown. The school’s mission is to provide a high quality education with a focus on Christian ideals. Their core values are love, respect, honesty, responsibility, and safety. The school has a strong focus on Christian values, but I do not identify with any particular; however, I since beginning my work at the school I have begun to think about and honor these values more in my everyday life.

Within the school, I work with the After 3 Club program. This program provides supervision and education opportunities for students whose parents are unable to pick them up at the end of the typical school day. The program provides tutoring, classes, and time for kids to play. I believe this program is really important because many parents are unable to leave work at 2 in order to take their kids home. I think that this in particular really addresses socioeconomic differences. In order for parents to be waiting at the school by 3 to pick up their children, at least one parent has to have a job flexible enough to leave work early every day or stay home. This is unrealistic for most families due to financial constraints, so it is important that these children are not left to their own devices after school lets out.

My average day includes planning programming for the students, helping with homework, making sure they have snacks/ are being fed, and playing with them until they’re picked up by a parent. I really like this site because I have the opportunity to work with children/adolescents ages 3 to 13. I go three days a week, and something that I really enjoy about the time I spend at NPS is watching each child develop. These developments include anything from kids recognizing their own names to mastering multiplication. It’s really rewarding, and the students are all fun to get to know. What I was not expecting was how challenging it is to balance the school’s values with the individual student’s values. By this I mean: the school and program try to foster an atmosphere that supports the values I listed earlier, but not all the families necessarily respect or follow these values. Because of this, sometimes it is difficult to have discussions with parents and discuss how we’re noticing these moral conflicts in their children.

My adolescent psychology class focuses a lot more on the older children. During the days I am at the school, I can reflect on what I have learned in class when I see them transitioning into adolescents both psychologically and physiologically. I met with Dr. Enchautegui the other day and shared some of my experiences with her, and it was really fun to discuss what I’ve been observing with someone else. It also makes my class a lot more interesting and meaningful because I am able to connect so much of what we learn in class to real life experiences that I have witnessed. Working with the school not only supplemented my class, but it provided me with more interest and a desire to learn more about child and adolescent development.

Lee Sandler, Baptist Church of Salem Gospel Ministries

I am Lee Sandler, I am twenty-two years old, and I am from the city of sunny Tel Aviv. I am a Junior at American University and I am studying Public Health and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. Being a woman from Israel automatically means that I must serve in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) for two years, men, on the other hand, serve for three. When most people at AU hear that I was in the army, they immediately assume that I did something aggressive and violent as part of my service. Students immediately ask me if I was in combat and practiced “Krav Maga” on a daily basis… I always chuckle when hearing this, because little do they know that my position in the military was the equivalent to a social worker in America.

Being a social worker meant that I was in charge of making sure lone soldiers were well treated, I was there to help soldiers with their financial issues, and helped families in need. These two years have changed my outlook on life. I have been giving back to the community ever since I can remember, and holding that position for two years really opened my eyes and exposed me to a lot of people with incredible stories. I did not want to stop volunteering once starting AU. As a result, I decided to join the CSLP program.

This is my second time volunteering with CSLP. I volunteered for the first time in the Spring of 2016 (when I was a freshman), at an after-school care program, called M.O.M.I.E’s, for underprivileged kids. This time, I am giving back in a completely new way. Since the start of the semester, I have combined my Health Promotion Program Planning class with CSLP, allowing me to make my learning experience more meaningful. As a class, we are working with Baptist Church of Salem Gospel Ministries, located in Silver Spring. Each group has a different health issue that they are focused on, allowing us to create a health promotion plan for our focused community.

My group and I are focused on intimate partner violence. At the start of the semester, we focused on creating an effective survey to be able to identify our target population. We wanted to see how prevalent the issue was within our society. When we visited the church, we spent a Sunday with our community and participated in service. After the engaging service, we handed out the surveys and helped our community fill them out. Currently, we are working on using all of the analyzed data that we have collected, and putting it into a meaningful health program. Our aim is to educate our community on intimate partner violence in order to prevent its occurrence and try to change this culture’s norm in those regards. This project is allowing me to experience a real program plan and implement it to a community where it is necessary. I feel like I am making a difference and that my hard work will make a difference in someone’s life.

Rachel Dean, DC Rape Crisis Center

My name is Rachel, and I’m an International Studies major at AU, with a minor in Arabic Language and focuses in identity, ethics/human rights, and the Middle East. I am currently volunteering with the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) as a crisis intervention advocate on the DCRCC hotline. The DCRCC’s mission is to eliminate sexual violence and promote a culture of consent through various support services for survivors of sexual violence. The DCRCC provides resources and services such as counseling and therapy, legal services, community outreach and education, institutional and system advocacy, and more. As a hotline advocate, I take calls on the 24-hour DCRCC hotline and speak to survivors in need of support. The hotline is survivor-centered, meaning, as an advocate, I use consensual language to enable the survivor to guide the conversation towards what he/she/they need, whether that is someone to talk to, specific resources, or safety planning. I have paired this volunteer work with my Gender and Development class, which discusses the connection between gender, specifically focusing on women, and systems and methods of development.

My introduction to the DCRCC hotline was a gradual one, as I had a two-month, 60-hour training process to prepare for the role of a hotline advocate. When I first entered training, I expected the position to be a sort of counseling role, where I’d talk callers through emotional problems, like suicide and depression. I was nervous because I had no idea how to handle calls, and no idea how I’d even go about learning something that seemed extremely wide-ranging in terms of the nature of situations that could come up. However, as training progressed, I grew more and more confident. We began with foundational, conceptual training regarding the science of trauma, children and childhood trauma, the importance of elements of identity, such as race, gender, and sexuality, as well as the dynamics of power, rape culture, and consent. We further learned how to connect this foundational knowledge with work on the hotline. We discussed a caller’s identity as important to how they experience and react to trauma, and consent as important on the hotline to give callers confidence and agency in determining the outcome of the call and their situation. My expectations for the hotline changed in that I no longer view the hotline as therapy, but rather as a sort of intermediary resource that connects survivors to other resources, and facilitates the day-to-day survival of those dealing with the trauma of sexual violence. When I started actually working on the hotline and talking to callers, these new expectations were met and I realized how thorough the training was in preparing me for hotline advocacy.

The nature of this work, especially its foundational knowledge, connects with the learning objectives of my Gender and Development class. In class, we discussed dynamics of power and how those dynamics play out in society between men and women, where men have hegemonic power over women. In this way, men control the public/productive sphere, which includes politics and monetarized work, while women dominate the reproductive sphere, which includes homemaking and child-rearing. Because men control politics, and therefore policy-making, men create the policies, and even the discourses, on women’s sexuality and fertility. In essence, men control women’s bodies through their societal-political dominance. Further, men, who are seen as “naturally” part of the productive sphere, earn the money for the household as “breadwinners,” and therefore are also the decision-maker heads of the household. This relates to sexual violence, rape culture, and culture of consent, where power and power dynamics are at their core. Sexual violence is about asserting power over someone, and making them feel powerless by taking away their agency. Rape culture is the manifestation of men’s power over women’s bodies, where victims are blamed and perpetrators are held unaccountable. A culture of consent is about giving people the power to make their own decisions about their bodies, and, in general, their lives. On the hotline, the use of consensual language is vital, as my job is to give the caller their agency back in making their own choices. I don’t tell them what they should do or what they should want (as much as I’d like to sometimes!), I let the caller guide the conversation and tell me what they want to do, empowering them to act in a way that suits their specific needs in that moment.

Additionally, in my Gender and Development class, we talked about different feminist methods of development. The main one we discussed is the post-modern feminist development approach, in which a practice is deconstructed to its root cultural ideology in order to reform it. For example, female genital cutting (FGC) is opposed by many activist NGOs. While some organizations have worked on criminalizing the practice, this actually proves more harmful, since the practice isn’t eliminated and instead it is driven to be done in dangerous, unsanitary places and situations. Therefore, those seeking to eliminate the practice need to deconstruct it, look at the cultural ideals behind it, and work from there in order to end the practice. Similarly, rape culture can be eliminated, and a culture of consent can be built, through this approach of deconstruction and reconstruction, which I believe is already underway in the US. Organizations like the DCRCC, as I’ve learned from working on the hotline, are vital parts of this cultural reformation, as they not only work with and help survivors of sexual violence, but they also inform policy and the public about these harmful societal structures and how to change them. They create a new discourse that challenges old discourses of rape culture, in effect paving the way to dismantling the existence of sexual violence.

Kayla Eaton, DC Central Kitchen & DC Food Policy Council

This past semester I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about food issues in DC, through engaging with DC Central Kitchen and DC Food Policy Council. DC Food Policy Council. According to DC Hunger Solutions, of the 43 full-service grocery stores, only two are located in Ward 4, four in Ward 7, and three in Ward 8. By contrast, Ward 3 – the highest income Ward – has eleven full service stores. Wards 7 and 8 have the District’s highest poverty rates and highest obesity rates ( DC Food Policy Council was created in 2014 to combat food issues in the city. The mayor appointed 13 members to serve on the board, ranging from nonprofit leaders, scholars, business owners and community members. The council has four working groups that tackle different issues: sustainable food procurement, local food business & labor development, urban agriculture & food system education, food equity, access, and health & nutrition education. The Council collects and analyzes data on the local food economy and recommends policy to “promote food access, food sustainability, and a local food economy in the District” (DC Food Policy website).

My first meeting was the Sustainable Food Procurement working group. The meeting consisted of people from different organizations like DC Greens and Dreaming Out Loud, self-described “food geeks,” and a few community members. Each strategic group had a short term and long-term goal as well as main mission. The bill that they were reviewing that day would loosen up restrictions on what food can be donated. This would lessen food waste and help food security. We had a long discussion on the arbitrary nature of best by, sell by, and use by dates. We also discussed the “Good Food Program.” This started in LA, and DC is looking to replicate this program. This would mean that every DC Public School would locally source their food. At the last meeting they reviewed what the program was and assigned tasks to every person at the meeting. It was clearly a community effort and the work relied on the willingness of the members. The next working group meeting I attended was the local food business & labor development. We discussed the Cottage Food Act, which pertains to people making food in their house and selling it online without inspection of their house.

I also spent my time volunteering at DC Central Kitchen, an incredible non-profit that aims to break the cycle of hunger and poverty through “innovated social ventures” (DCCK website). The most interesting thing that happened whilst volunteering for DCCK happened on my way to the site for my second shift. Having already volunteered once before at a different location, I didn’t look at where exactly the kitchen was. As I rode the escalator out of the Judiciary Square station I typed in DC Central Kitchen into my maps and strolled through the streets. I came to a large building with no clear markings. People hung out outside having conversations with each other, not paying much attention to me. I remembered from the volunteer intro video that the main kitchen lay under the largest shelter in America. This must be it. There were no signs for the kitchen so I walked up the block, pulling up the email with directions. Two men stood against the wall of the building conversing. A black man running up and down the street exercising past me. I stood on the corner and called Mariah, who I was meeting for lunch. The running man asked me if I was lost, I smiled, laughing, and explained that I was, but my friend had given me directions, and now I knew where to go. He stood with his feet wide and raised his arms in front of him to mimic holding a gun.

“You’re not welcome here”.

It was cold out that day and my eyes had been watering from the wind. The stoplight changed and cars rushed past us. A lanky white woman with a knitted hat aged 22, trying to ignore the fact that a black man in his 30s was aiming an imaginary rifle in intimidation at her. I wanted to explain that I wasn’t a white gentrifier taking over the neighborhood. I wanted to explain that I wasn’t attempting to tell him how to live his life. I wanted to tell him that I was a student currently learning about gentrification in DC. I wanted to tell him that I worked for a syringe exchange service and provided health services judgment-free to sex workers, drug users, and those experiencing homelessness. I wanted to tell him that yesterday I had shared an article about police brutality in DC. I wanted to tell him that one time I went to a Standing up For Racial Justice meeting. I wanted to tell him that I was on his side. But what does any of that mean?

I said I’m sorry and continued walking.

“For what?”

“For being here.”

I was aware of me whiteness, my femininity, my class, my privilege and the space that I was taking up. I was aware of the number of people that flood to that corner every week to ‘save the community’ to ‘feed the poor’. To feel complacent in a system built to oppress, to feel justified to continue living the way they do, the way I do. And I was just another one of them. Even if I wanted to explain that I wasn’t, I was. A white family walked behind me in colorful Washington DC hats, they asked if I was okay. I assured them that I was fine. And I was fine. I didn’t take this personally. I attempted to empathize with him. This man didn’t know me, and I didn’t know him either. I assumed him to be a man, assumed him to be black, assumed him to have some disorder as he had pointed an imaginary gun at me, which in all honesty was extremely terrifying. I knew there was nothing there but there was something about that situation that haunts me. It would have been different if he had just yelled that. But that imaginary gun, he believed in it, and so did I. The motion was so deliberate that I had put my hands up, showing my empty palms.

I don’t share this interaction to incite sympathy for myself, or try to pretend I’m a victim or that I’m tough or with it. I share this interaction because it needs to be asked: what does this interaction have to do with food & agriculture? And what is the larger context? For one, it reminds me of the distinction between intent and impact. I have great intentions but I must be aware of my impact as well. I want to help with DC’s food insecurity, but I have to interrogate why I want to help and how. No one knows the issue better than those experiencing it. I need to ensure I am lifting up voices that have been oppressed, listening to the solutions that the community is proposing, be in touch with the already existing networks that are fighting for access to healthy foods. I need to be aware of saviorism, of the white man’s burden, of histories of colonialism and the way they manifest today. It reminds me that you can’t talk about food issues without talking about labor issues and identities and race and class and politics and history. I wanted so badly for that man to know that I understand, but in reality, do I truly understand?

Sam Groskind, Bread for the City

I’m Sam Groskind, a Law and Society major at American University. This semester I’ve been volunteering at Bread for the City as part of the CSLP program for my Intro to Public Health course. Bread for the City is a nonprofit that provides a multitude of services to Washington DC’s most vulnerable residents. Their motto is “Dignity, Respect, and Service,” and they accomplish this through medical, legal, and social services, and by distributing food and clothing. I have been volunteering in the food pantry, which has given my the opportunity to witness the hunger and poverty that persists in our nation’s capital. Many Americans don’t see poverty in their daily lives, which leaves them unaware of the fact that millions of people in this country are food-insecure, meaning that they don’t know where their next meal will come from. The same is true for many students at American University. Many of us are affluent and have come here from all over the country, yet few of us get the chance to interact with and serve the
DC community.

I’ve volunteered at food banks on and off my whole life, so I felt prepared for the work itself. However, I was a little apprehensive at how I’d be received by the staff and clients in the food bank, but those fears were entirely unfounded. It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun and we have a good time. The most important thing for me is to treat the clients with dignity, because the truth is, it’s not easy to ask for help when you need it most. I learn the most from my conversations with the food pantry staff and in my quick interactions with clients, and I’m able to tie some of it into what I’ve been learning in Public Health.

It’s been interesting to observe what kinds of food the clients choose. Some are only familiar with processed foods, and they’ll ask for white rice or spaghetti, white bread and crackers, and they don’t want certain vegetables because they don’t like them or aren’t sure how to use them. Others look forward to coming to the food pantry because it might be the only time during the week that they are able to access healthier options such as whole wheat bread, vegetables, and lean meat. Bread for the City partners with local farmers markets and farms to collect unsold produce that would otherwise go to waste, and they encourage clients to choose the healthier options when possible.

All in all, this has been an incredible experience and I encourage everyone who can to find a nonprofit in DC and volunteer. I realized that Tuesdays have become my favorite day this semester because that’s when I volunteer. It’s a fairly long commute and the work is exhausting, but there’s no substitute for the gratification that comes from giving your time and effort to those who need it the most.

Samuel Oswald, Mary House

My name is Samuel Oswald. I am a freshman studying International Relations at American University. At the beginning of this semester, I decided to combine the Community Services Learning Program (CSLP) with my Social Justice and Science College Writing course taught by Professor Michael Moreno. With the help of Professor Moreno and the CSLP staff, I found an opportunity to volunteer at the Mary House in Brookland, Washington, DC. This organization provides after school care and learning support to children from the area. The Mary House has also partnered with Panera Bread and YES Organic in an effort to distribute surpluses of food to families connected to the organization.

I joined the Mary House as an after school program assistant. With around twenty children ranging in age from 3 to 13 years old and only three full-time program leaders, there was plenty for me to do on a regular basis. I tried to entertain, read, and study with the children for the hours they were at the Mary House each day.

Truth be told, I was a little nervous to work with children because I had never been responsible for someone else before. My worries were cast aside after one session with the Mary House. The kids were energetic and sometimes wild, but my job of watching over them was far from difficult. They ate snacks, went outside to play, came inside to read, and then did arts and crafts. I joined them in their fun whenever they wanted me around. If they did not want me around, I sat back and made sure that their playing with each other did not turn into fighting. Again, my job was easy.

I have yet to mention that many of the children at the Mary House have parents who recently immigrated to the United States. Here in lies my experiences’ connection to my Social Justice and Science course. I discovered through working with the Mary House how important providing a supportive community to people who are rebuilding their lives half a world away from where they previously lived. Simple after school programs are perfect for building this supportive community. I am trying to convey my experience with the Mary House in an editorial I am writing for Professor Moreno on the importance of community support in reference to immigrant mental health. I see a correlation, so I am trying to convince others to pay attention.

I hope that other students will take the opportunity to enrich their educational experience at American University through CSLP. I had a wonderful time working with the Mary House. I met a lot of great adults and children and was able to expand my knowledge by learning outside of the classroom. CSLP gave me an excuse to spend less time studying and more time becoming a part of the Washington, DC community off campus. So often, students like myself get caught up in the academic aspects of college that we forget there are other ways of learning. I will be forever thankful to have been pushed towards the Mary House by CSLP. I am for sure continuing my work with the organization after my completion of the program.

Anika Tahsin, Humanwire

My name is Anika Tahsin, and I am a junior majoring in International Studies. For the Community Service Learning Program, I worked with Humanwire in order to build on the themes discussed in my Migration and Development class.

Humanwire is a crowdfunding website helping refugees across the world. Humanwire takes away the middleman from the equation, directly connecting donors to refugees and refugee families. Every dollar donated goes to refugees in need. If donors are inclined to support the work of the organization, they can donate to a different fund that goes towards Humanwire employees’ wages.

I am in charge of writing refugee profiles for Humanwire. On-the-ground volunteers and interpreters register refugees into the Humanwire system and help refugees fill out questionnaires. I consolidate the questionnaires and put together a profile, building a coherent narrative telling the story of the individual or the family. On a few occasions, I even had the opportunity to converse with refugee families directly via Skype. Having the opportunity to form my own questions and communicate face to face definitely helped me understand the conditions in refugee camps better.

Going in, I knew working for Humanwire would not be easy. I was proven right by the stories I encountered. Refugees are among some of the most vulnerable groups of people in the world. They live lives filled with danger and uncertainty. Almost every case I was given was wrapped in pain and loss. The work took an emotional toll on me, especially in the beginning. However, I knew that the work I was doing was important and I refused to let myself become discouraged.

As time went on, I found that the work became easier. It wasn’t that I became desensitized to the stories of hardship. On the contrary, I was assigned more difficult cases as time went on since I now had more experience with the work. What made the work easier was seeing the fruits of my labor. Refugee profiles that I had written were chosen by sponsors and campaigns were launched for the refugee families. I checked in on the campaigns daily and celebrated when the campaign goal was matched. This part of the experience was very rewarding, and it encouraged me to keep working through difficult cases in the future.

The topic of refugees covers a large section of my Migration and Development class. My experience with Humanwire allowed to see the theories and challenges discussed in class being played out in the real world. I found the gender aspect of refugee life especially interesting, as most of the cases I worked on for Humanwire involved women. Challenges that were specific to female refugees also helped me further understand the need for intersectional feminism in the world.

Alejandro Mora, The League of United Latin American Citizens

While attending American University this semester I was thrilled to discover that there was a complete spectrum of classes that were offered in Spanish AND that we had the option to complement our in class instruction with service learning with a variety of Latino serving organizations. As someone who was born in Mexico, but immigrated to the United States when I was only 5 years old, having the option to take courses designed for heritage learners has been a transformative experience. Through our coursework, I was exposed to the history, art, and culture of many Latin American countries, and given the opportunity to explore the historical context, along with the contemporary scholarship, that facilitated a unique depth of cross cultural exchange that I had never experienced growing up in Utah.

I chose to attend American University both because of its strong ties to decision makers in DC, but also because of the important research taking place on campus as a part of the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies. As someone who understands the unique circumstances that many immigrants face, and will face as a result of the policy priorities of the new administration, I have experienced a renewed sense of urgency to understand and promote the upward mobility and social and economic development of immigrants at the local and national level. With that in mind, I decided to partner with LULAC as a part of AU’s Community Service Learning Program (CSLP).

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is the oldest and most widely respected Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States. Since its establishment in 1929, they have worked to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, and political influence of the Hispanic population across the country. Through their deep network of active LULAC members across the country they have consistently been on the forefront of developing innovative strategies dedicated to empower, mentor, and promote Latino leadership and representation at all levels of government.

Having worked with the local chapter in Utah, I was looking forward to the potential of contributing (if even in a small regard) to their impressive efforts nationwide. I also wanted to learn what I myself could be doing in my everyday life to combat the distorted and miss informed narratives about Latin American immigrants. As a part of AU’s CSLP, I was able to send 40 hours working with LULAC’s National Development Director David Perez, and gained valuable insight into what it takes to sustain its nationwide efforts. I was surprised to learn that although the Hispanic community represents an estimated 54 million people comprising nearly 17% of the population, corporate donors are still working to understand the power/impact/value of their investment. Specifically, how to quantify the return on their investment. As someone who has worked with several Latino organizations I can attest to the tremendous positive impact that donations of any kind have on building the capacity of organizations working with one of the most underserved communities in our country—especially one with a combined buying power of over $1.3 trillion.

Working with David helped me understand how corporate philanthropy not only promotes the upward economic mobility of the Latino community, but also creates long-term financial value, customer loyalty, and employee engagement within the funding corporation. Working with LULAC and David helped me understand how the most important thing that anyone of us can do (if we are truly invested in improving conditions for the Latino community) is to pull out our wallets and make a donation. Through my CSLP experience with LULAC I was able to do targeted donor research, help with and attend their National Legislative Conference and Gala, and network with the dynamic and dedicated staff of the organization. I definitely plan to take advantage of the CSLP learning program the next couple of semester to work with other Latino organizations in DC area and to keep in touch with my newfound friend at LULAC.

Isabella Dominique, DC Reads


My name is Isabella Dominique and I am a freshman at American University. I am currently double majoring in CLEG (communications, law, economics, government) and political science. I am connecting my CSLP credit to the writing seminar I’m enrolled in. My seminar focuses on social justice and law. I felt this was the most fitting of choices because my class and I spend most of our time exploring the avenues of social justice and equity in America. My knowledge I’ve gained from volunteering with DC Reads applies well to the content I am learning in my writing seminar because I am tutoring the students in math and ELA, but through the lens of a social justice curriculum.

My Volunteer Site

I volunteer at the Higher Achievement site for DC Reads. Higher Achievement is program that is offered from 6-8pm on select weekday nights. Scholars from grades five through eight are welcome to attend. Each night, we are given a curriculum that supplements what the scholars have already learned during their normal school hours. However, we teach them different ways to better retain that information and apply it to their own lives. As a volunteer, I form bonds with my scholars and I ensure that they are actually learning all the curriculum asks of them. Since the groups of scholars are generally small, it’s easier to make sure every student is confident with what they are learning.

My Expectations

I have been most surprised by the sheer eagerness of the scholars that attend Higher Achievement. Before I had ever gone to site, I was expecting the scholars to be less excited about spending more time after their normal school days to only do more school. However, these students do an excellent job at being kind, courteous, and passionate about becoming more knowledgeable. It makes the experience for both parties (mentor and mentee) much more enjoyable and it creates a strong bond between both the mentors and their scholars.

Course Connection

My writing professor has worked to teach my class about the becomings of civil rights in America. She has split the class into four sections: the Civil Rights Movement/black history, women’s suffrage, sexual assault, and free speech. I appreciate being able to relearn and dive deeper into the concepts behind the Civil Rights Movement because they are just learning it for the first time. I now have a greater understanding of the content that my scholars are learning themselves. About 98% of my scholars are people of color, most of them being black or Hispanic. The content I am learning in my own college course allows me to better understand how they might be underprivileged and how I can use my opportunities as a college student to better their own chances of success. At Higher Achievement, the scholars are learning through a social justice curriculum. They understand the importance of equity and equality, but I think it’s even more important to reinforce the idea that there is still work to be done. They were born with the platforms to create more change and I have found that encouraging them and telling them that they are able to make change has allowed them to better their self-confidence.

William Shriver, Latin American Youth Center

The volunteer opportunity that I worked through is with my Spanish professor Christina Hernandez, even though I am majoring in International Relations in SIS. My Spanish professor wanted me to get more practice with my Spanish oral skills somewhere outside of the classroom and I got exactly that. The site that I am primarily volunteering at is the Latin American Youth Center in Columbia Heights. The Latin American Youth Center serves as a home for local youth to come for tutoring, education, recreation, and just as a place to hang out. The Latin American Youth Center offers a great safe and open space for local youth to come and have fun and take advantage of tutoring and education opportunities all for free. The Latin American Youth Center does amazing work helping local youth stay off the streets and have a welcoming community to come to.

As a volunteer I have taken a large variety of roles at the Latin American Youth Center. I helped clean up, set up the area, tutor local kids and just help the kids have fun at the center. The volunteering at LAYC has truly been a great way for me to practice my Spanish with native speakers. It has offered such a different language experience, one so different from only speaking with my professor or other AU students. I have spoken with people from Mexico, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. It has been incredibly eye opening hearing these students’ stories, some who speak very little English and only been in the US for a few months. The experience has shattered my expectations, as I have met some truly unique and moving characters. While volunteering, I am able to share great moments with the students while simply just playing some ping-pong or pool with them. It is a great feeling to be able to hold a conversation in Spanish with them, something that I have always wanted to challenge myself with in the past.

My biggest surprise so far have definitely been the people I have met. As I mentioned before, I have met some amazing people so far. The lead director of the Teen Center at the LAYC is a woman named Fernanda from Monterrey, Mexico. Her energy, positivity and amicableness every day truly inspires me. She has an incredible passion for helping others and looking out for the local students as if they were her own kids. On top of Fernanda, the students have equally inspired me. It is so inspiring to me that the students can have such positivity and happiness while facing the challenges of living in a brand new country and learning a new language. They all have been so friendly and welcoming to me, even when my Spanish is not the best. This will only further my Spanish abilities and connections to the language.

Over all, my CSLP experience has been a great and educational one. The opportunity has been able to broaden my horizons while learning valuable Spanish communication skills. I will remember those I have met for a long time, while their stories and words have inspired me to appreciate what I have and look for a brighter future. My volunteering at CSLP has been an amazing experience and I hope to gain even more experience in the future.

Grace Lohmeier, Iona Senior Services

My name is Grace Lohmeier and I am a freshman Public Health major. This semester I am working at Iona Senior Services in Tenleytown and attaching the CSLP credit to my Intro to Health Promotion class. Iona is an organization that works with older adults and their families through the difficulties of aging. The organization has a number of different programs, including classes, weekend meal delivery, and an active wellness program at the St. Alban’s location. The areas I am involved with are weekend meal packing and the day program at the Wellness and Art Center at Iona’s main location. The day program is important because it provides supervision and care each day for older adults suffering from chronic conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, and allows them to go home each night. The program is ideal for individuals who may need some additional help or support, but do not need to be hospitalized full time. The Wellness and Arts center assists caregivers in improving the quality of life for their loved ones by immersing them in a supportive and social community each day.

Throughout the semester, I have been going to the Wellness and Arts center once a week for three or four hours and assisting the participants in any activities they are doing that day. The schedule for the program varies in terms of activities but has some similar elements each day. I arrive after they finish eating lunch and are about to begin the afternoon activity. Some of these have been: writing a story as a group, trivia, learning more about famous people, and even listening to a musical performance of love songs the week before Valentine’s Day. My role in these activities was assisting the person leading it or simply helping ensure the participants were engaged by talking to them or sitting with them. After the group activity, the participants moved to sit at tables and had their afternoon snack. Around this time some of the participants would start to get picked up and the people remaining would often color in pictures or do other crafts at the tables. I would sit and talk with the participants or help them do the crafts.

I expected this volunteering to be somewhat emotionally difficult because the participants have chronic conditions, many of them involving memory loss. One challenge I encountered during my volunteering was reassuring some of the participants that someone would be coming to pick them up eventually. When the participants notice other people are getting picked up and they do not remember how they are getting home, they get very confused and agitated. The volunteers are trained to help in these moments by reassuring them or distracting them with a new activity. This part of volunteering met my expectations and was difficult and hard on me emotionally to see the participants so upset.

My other volunteer position at Iona includes packaging meals and putting them in cars to be delivered to older people living in the community. This is less interactive, but still important and related to promoting health. My CSLP experience connects very well with my Intro to Health Promotion class because the Wellness and Arts center emphasizes healthy living on a physical and emotional level. Older people have high rates of depression and many medical issues that can be related to difficulty exercising. The program has physical activities such as exercise classes and walking groups to improve the physical wellbeing of the participants. There are also nurses that work at the center to provide medical supervision and treatment that some participants need, such as dispensing medication and taking blood pressure. The biggest role the center has in health promotion is in promoting mental health by allowing the participants to have a social life. Loneliness is a major contributor to depression and social interaction can also help slow cognitive decline. Iona focuses on the elderly popular which is a group at risk for many health problems and the program helps maintain a good quality of life for the participants.  I have taken away many things to use in my future career in public health. I have learned that it can be helpful to focus on specific populations and their needs when working to promote health. I was most surprised to enjoy my volunteering as much as I have and that the participants are more similar to me than I had originally expected.

Kendell Lincoln, Community of Hope

My name is Kendell Lincoln. This spring, I’ve attached a Community-Service Learning Project to my Introduction to Health Promotion (HPRM-240-002) class. The organization I chose to work with is Community of Hope (COH), particularly their volunteer doula program. While the organization as a whole offers a variety of services, including emergency housing, day care services, etc., the doula program has a particular mission. We offer support for women during their prenatal, labor, and postpartum experiences. The women we serve tend to be low-income minorities and have been previously excluded from the “new wave” of birth practices (midwives and doulas). COH’s doulas extend these services to women who previously would not have been able to take advantage of the support and empowerment that comes from using a doula.

My role at Community of Hope differs by day, but my largest role is being on-call for 24-hour shifts once or twice a week. I am responsible for communicating with the midwife on call, and when a mom goes into labor I am called to respond and help her through her birth. I also conduct prenatal calls, where I phone an expectant mother and walk through her birth preferences with her. The main goal is to get the mother thinking about her ideal birth situation, and draw her attention to the things she can choose during her labor, such as birth positions, pain management interventions (both natural and medical), and postpartum care. I have also been coordinating and leading doula nights and pregnancy classes. I had very few expectations because I had just finished my doula certification, and I knew the challenge was going to be truly making a mom feel comfortable during a tough labor. But during my first birth, I realized that it was a privilege to feel uncomfortable and I had to rise to the occasion for the mom, empowering her and reminding her that at the end of all of this, she was going to have a new life in her arms that she was prepared to care for. This empowerment and reminder of a woman’s true self-efficacy can act as a step towards equalizing new mothers and their babies, regardless of socioeconomic or racial determinants. The biggest lesson I’ve taken away is that something as natural as birth still requires education, empowerment, and compassion. Volunteering my services as a doula has given me that opportunity, and I will forever be grateful for my time with Community of Hope.

Andrea Reid, Mentors of Minorities in Education (Whittier)

My name is Andrea Reid. I am currently in the second year of a Finance and Economics double major in The American University. Being from the Dominican Republic, a small island in the heart of the Caribbean, the general education courses offered of Education for International Development intrigued me. The breadth and depth of such course includes the study of educational systems of high school institutions of developing economies, as well as developed ones, including the United States. This motivated me to explore the educational systems of the US in order to better understand, and better participate in class debates. After researching and trying to figure out where I wanted to volunteer, and many visits to the Center for Community Engagement at AU for assistance, I was moved by the mission of DC Reads, a not-for-profit organization that works to reduce illiteracy rates of Washington, DC – which is the central focus of the course I am currently taking. I am specifically at the MOMIES (Mentors of Minorities in Education) organization at their Whittiers location.

What does a day at Whittiers look like? Two days a week, I leave AU from the Zip car parking lot behind the library, with seven or eight colleagues at 3:45 pm, and arrive at Whittiers around 4-4:10pm. Once we arrive, we all go together through the big red door, sign in at the front desk where a female guard, always very presentable sits, and then we all diverge in to the rooms we are used to assisting. I am currently working with students of third and fourth grade, with around fifteen students overall. Once I get into the room, the kids start saying “sister, sister” I want you to help me, and even take me by the hand so that no other students take me. I then start to help him or her on their homework, mostly math and reading, until completing it. On days of great weather, we go outside the rest of the time to play kickball, and tag with the little ones until it is time to leave.

Going to Whittiers has never been a burden, not even the most stressed of days. The kids are very welcoming and are always pleased to see us, receiving us with a big smile, even when they are not so eager to work. It is a break from the hard day at AU. I started with no expectations at all. I had previously worked at public schools back in the Dominican Republic and was keen to see how the education system in public schools in the US differed from those back home. I have found differences, but mostly on installations rather than on educational patterns. Hence, I do believe there is still a lot to be done, in terms of culture, in order to improve educational systems, specifically of public schools, both in the US and in the Dominican Republic.

Charin Khan, Kid Power, Inc.

My name is Charin Khan and am a current freshman at American University. I am studying Public Health, and worked with Kid Power this semester for my Community Service Learning Project; I have attached this CSLP to Intro to Health Promotion. Kid Power is a non-profit organization that is an afterschool program among D.C. Public Schools. This program’s mission is to inspire youth leadership by promoting academic advancement, physical and emotional wellness, and positive civic engagement in underserved communities in D.C.P.S.

I have been working alongside the students at Jefferson Middle School (in SW, D.C.) in and J.O. Wilson Elementary School (in NE, D.C.). At Jefferson Middle School, I work with children between the ages of 11-13 while at J.O. Wilson Elementary School I work mainly with 4th graders. Both schools have implemented two Kid Power programs: Academic Power Hour and Veggie Time. Academic Power Hour is an hour dedicated to working on assignments and receiving one-on-one academic support, which addresses the students’ individual academic and social needs. During this hour, my responsibilities include helping students with their homework and providing individual tutoring to students who need it. Throughout the weeks that I have been at this site, I have helped students with a variety of subjects including Math, Science, Spanish, Civics and English. Although, I participate in Power Hour at both locations, I also assist leading Veggie Time solely at Jefferson Middle School. Veggie Time is a program targeted towards creating a sustainable community through nutrition education. Participants of Kid Power study and learn about agriculture, environmental science, and healthy living practices. We do activities such as hands on math and science projects, cooking classes, and creating business plans to build financial literacy and increase marketing technique knowledge. The projects we have worked on this year include creating and selling cranberry jam and barbeque sauce (all created and influenced by the kids). In order to successfully execute these projects, Kid Power hosts several activities (that I assist leading) to ensure a holistic understanding of the project.

Upon beginning my time with Kid Power and learning about what this organization does for its constituents, I expected to be helping kids with homework and tutoring. Despite meeting those specific expectations, I was also presented with unexpected experiences. Although I was aware that working with children requires a lot of patience, this experience has shown me how imperative it is to be patient and flexible. For example, there were many instances throughout the semester in which I would help most students with the same assignment; while a few understood it perfectly and did not need any help, others struggled with it and needed me to walk through it with them. Differences like these were always interesting to observe as it helped me get to know each student better, and find ways to that I could improve to help the individual students. Although my small contribution does not make much of an impact on their lives, it is surprising and reassuring to see students improve certain academic skills that we work on together. Through this experience, I had the opportunity to speak to many students about many subjects including their home lives, what they like and dislike, their eating habits and general things that they enjoy talking about. When we talk about nutrition and eating healthy, some children express eating a certain amount of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout their week while most do not. I find this to connect to Health Promotion as we learn so much about the importance of eating well and exercise and its positive impacts on all aspects of our health. Although, accessibility is an immense influencer on whether or not these children can make healthy foods a regular part of their diets, which is a major topic of conversation in my class. I think my biggest takeaway from this semester will be appreciating how imperative it is to be patient and apply all the things I have learned from both students and faculty in my academic and personal life.

Giselle Rodriguez, Kid Power, Inc.

My name is Giselle Rodriguez and I’m a Public Health major. This semester I am doing my Community Service Learning Project with Kid Power Inc. and I’m connecting it to my Multicultural Health class. Kid Power is a nonprofit organization that works with DC public schools to promote positive civic engagement and academic development. Their mission is to teach the children about proper nutrition, exercise, and overall physical and emotional wellness. The organization’s main goal is to educate the kids and ensure that they are reaching their full potential. The program mainly works with kids who go to schools in Southeast DC and majority of the students are children of color, specifically African American. The parents of many of the children we serve work long hours and don’t always have the time to help their children with their homework or can’t pick them up after school because of their work schedule. Kid Power proves quite beneficial to parents because it gives them the opportunity feel at ease knowing their kids are in school doing something productive and constructive. Along the same lines because the kids are still in school learning and participating in positive activities their grades and leadership ability both improve.

I work at Malcolm X Elementary School and my main job is to help my site coordinator, Ms. Shana, in whatever way I can. Usually, I prepare for the activity of the day whether that’s a STEM activity or preparing for clubs. I chose to focus on the physical wellness aspect of the program so that I could relate it to my multicultural health class. Because Kid Power has a program called Veggie Time where the kids learn about nutrition and healthy eating, I figured I could work with the sports club to make a sports curriculum that would work in accordance with Veggie Time. That way the children get a well-rounded physical wellness education in addition to whatever they are learning from their physical education curriculum. I knew that this work would best fit with my public health interests and would make sense when relating it to my class.

It has proven more difficult than I originally expected because of logistical issues and changes in the schedule to accommodate the needs of the kids. For the first month of the my CSLP, instead of working with the sports club I was working with the arts and crafts club instead. I knew that working with these kids was what my site coordinator needed me to do. However, once I started getting outside and seeing how the excited the kids were to play whatever sport we planned for the day I knew that all the days spent inside were worth it.

Seeing as all the kids are children of color living in an urban environment they don’t get the chance to be outside that often. The sports club gives them the opportunity to go outside, get their energy out, and just be kids. From a public health stand point it is well known that African Americans are more likely to suffer from poorer health than their white counterparts. By having this sports club that would work in conjunction with Veggie Time, we were setting the kids up with better health practices. Majority of the time the kids wanted to play either football or basketball so getting them to try sports like soccer, kickball, or softball was quite difficult. I didn’t think that something as simple as sports could differ so much. Working with kids has taught me the art of patience and perseverance because while it can be difficult to get the kids to listen or follow directions once they’re running around and having a good time it all becomes worth it.

Michal Petros, Lutheran Social Services

My name is Michal Petros and I am a second year student at American University. My major is International Relations, with a focus in Comparative/Global Governance and Identity, Race, Gender and Culture in sub-Saharan Africa. I am currently working with Lutheran Social Services (LSS) and connecting my work to my gateway course for Comparative and Global Governance. Lutheran Social Services is an organization that works to aid and resettle refugees at their various locations within the United States. This semester, my work has been with the office in Hyattsville, Maryland.

As a volunteer at my service site, I have done manual labor tasks such as organizing the office space and more administrative tasks such as entering refugee individuals or families’ information on LSS’ database.  In entering the information of refugees, I have gained knowledge in the procedures that refugees go through once they have entered the USA – an example being how they decide if an individual will be given financial assistance from the government.

When starting at LSS, I expected to be given minor administrative tasks throughout the day, such as filing and shredding papers. Although my volunteering began with a morning of organizing shelves, I was quickly given a responsibility that was essential to the functioning of the office. My supervisor showed me how to use their online system, in which I updated how much money that individuals or families received from LSS. Along with entering financial data, I was given a pile of files that belonged to different families, and my task was to organize them to be put into their respective hard copy files. As I filed papers that I had entered the information of or had organized, I was told by the regional manager that its important that I ask if I am not sure where a specific paper goes as its imperative that all newly entered information is easily accessible. I was surprised that I was trusted with this task on my first day, but I am grateful as I’m learning how to use a new database while gaining knowledge first hand on how LSS works to promote self sufficiency in refugees.

Connecting this to my course, I am directly observing a level of domestic governance. LSS is a self-governing institution with a public goods provision. As their website concisely states,

“On the path to regain independence, families receive intensive case management, cultural orientation from our trained staff of professionals, and other services to gain self-sufficiency. We direct newcomers to appropriate community resources while helping them to become active members of their new communities.”

In addition to providing public goods and services, LSS works off a simple narrative as my professor, Michael Schroeder, has discussed in class. They consistently reiterate through their mission statement, vision and social media that they are looking to help vulnerable populations, which is a fundamental aspect to their Lutheran faith. It has been an amazing opportunity for me to combine volunteering for a cause I care about deeply and my primary academic focus within International Relations. I’m excited to see what more I am able to learn as the semester comes to a close.

Margaret McFarland, IONA Senior Services

When I thought about a senior community center prior to my time at IONA, I envisioned seniors who were no longer able to care for themselves—a room laden with wheelchairs and walkers and oxygen tanks. The thought made me sad, reflecting on my own grandparents’ degradation. I was skeptical, not in the facility itself, rather my own ability to stay positive. I was pleasantly surprised by the vibrant, diverse community IONA supports. There were seniors on all spectrums of the scale; some strutted through the doors with youthful spunk and others glided with supportive assistance. They came from all different walks of life, culture, and beliefs.

Courtney and Nathaniel run a tight ship. Everything is planned to a T—from the number of milks they order for lunch to the precise placement of the tablecloths and centerpieces. Our Wednesday routine was mostly set in stone. The participants begin arriving around 10:00am, giving ample time to set up their stations for fitness class. Ms. Jerri rolls in promptly at 11:00am, ready to start class. Dumbbells and resistance bands in tow, the group set out to complete a workout that I even find challenging. It is so fun to watch everybody challenge themselves. The entire workout is geared to strengthening the muscles most important for stabilizing and mobility. It is revitalizing to see people four times my age still taking care of their bodies.

After the workout, Nathaniel and the volunteers serve lunch. This is my favorite time. I get a chance to engage with the participants and learn more about their lives. Every week I met somebody new who left me in awe, from learning about Buddhism from an ex-monk to speaking in Spanish to a group of women about Latin American culture. While the participants finished their meals, the volunteers set up for bingo with the local elementary school. Every Wednesday, a class of second graders trades off playing bingo with their “grand friends”. If the seniors were not playing bingo with the kids, they were participating in the weekly lifestyle discussion.

While working at IONA was rewarding, I did not fully understand the value of my work until recently. I was sitting behind the check-in table greeting participants when a new face came through the door: a woman in her 60’s with bright red lipstick. She seemed out of sorts; it was obviously her first time in the space. Courtney soon spotted her, greeted her, and directed her to my table. She sat down with a huff and I began to get her registered for the week. I made small talk in the meantime, asking where she is originally from and how she heard about IONA. She was far from shy. I learned all about her childhood, her life before retirement. She grew up in Puerto Rico and was raised by her mom who “never wanted to have kids”. Her relationship with her mom seemed complicated. She lived a life of adventure island hopping with her best friend, sneaking into concerts, and experimenting with drugs. She eventually found her way to the Washington Post where she had the opportunity to travel through Africa and meet Nelson Mandela. She was successful in her career and decided to retire early, right before the recession hit.

Soon after the recession her mom passed away, leaving her with a Puerto Rican beach house. The woman decided to sell the house because it was worth so much. Unfortunately, her realtor saw her as a vulnerable elderly woman and stole $100,000 from her. Never married, the woman now lives alone in an apartment in the city. Her old coworkers do not speak to her, her best friend has passed, and she has no family left. She became so lonely that she decided to look into a nursing home. She was told that there would be people her age in the facility. “I was lied to,” she explained, “Everybody was in wheelchairs with drool running down their face. We ate dinner at 4 o’clock and went to bed at 6 o’clock.” The woman fell into a deep depression and had to be medically transported to the hospital for an anxiety attack. She discovered IONA on a whim, and decided to give it a try. With tears in my eyes, I handed the woman a tissue to wipe away her own. I encouraged her that she had found the right place, that she should dive into the activities and meet new people. She looked around, took a breath, and got up to sit at a table with other women around her age.

My experience with this woman made me reflect on the needs of the elderly. It is so important for them to be stimulated and to stay active. So many of the participants at IONA have no family, they live alone or in shelters. For some, their time at IONA is the extent of their social life. My grandmother is 90 years old. She suffers from a multitude of ailments—arthritis, dementia, depression, incontinence, high blood pressure. She has suffered a stroke, had knee replacement, and survived colon cancer. She also lives alone. Granted, she has a caregiver who comes to her house 6 days a week to bathe, feed, and engage her. She is lucky. Her townhouse is a five-minute walk from my house, so she is regularly surrounded by her family. My dad brings her dinner, my mom takes her to doctor’s appointments, and my dog even keeps her company every Tuesday. My family used to take my grandmother to our local senior community center for scheduled activities. She hated nothing more. For somebody so young at heart, it was hard to see people her age struggling. My grandmother takes pride in being independent and her caregiver allows her to be just that.

Unfortunately, this is not all the case for many seniors in our nation. Necessary care is often expensive and not always covered by insurance. Resources are hard to access and many seniors do not have family to support them. Due to reasons such as these, depression is prevalent in seniors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 7 millions of Americans over the age of 65 battle with depression annually, which is not only treatable but also preventable. Furthermore, depression amplifies preexisting conditions like heart disease and diabetes and raises the cost of healthcare. IONA’s works to provide community-based services to facilitate healthy aging and healthy living. Their work is so foundational to the senior community, providing the elderly with numerous resources and services they may not otherwise have access to.

Doreen Yan, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

I am a student at the School of International Service and am connecting the credit to my
international development class (SISU-240-004-2017S). I am working with the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy (DOPC) this semester, a non-profit organization that aims to restore the 27-acre Dumbarton Oaks Park in Georgetown. This beautiful and historical park (which serves as a recreational space for D.C. residents), has deteriorated due to lessened management of the park.

A big part of my work with DOPC aims at mitigating the presence of invasive plants,
which have taken over much of the natural landscape and threatens the park’s bio-diversity. Through helping DOPC run volunteer events such as weed warrior trainings, I have learned to distinguish invasive plants from native plants in the park and how to effectively and manually remove invasive species. The organization helped me meet my expectations by showing me the parts of the park that are in need of restoration efforts and giving me hands-on work in the park. It really is a rewarding experience to work directly with the landscape and see the changes being made with the removal of invasive plants.

Unfortunately, that is the only volunteer work I have done so far. In the upcoming weeks, however, I will be helping DOPC run their Spring camp week as well as their after-school program. DOPC arranges various programs with D.C. Public Schools to help educate children on nature preservation through the activities they do in the park. The volunteer work I will do with DOPC includes: assisting with camp week, organizing activities and providing environmental education to DCPS students, and looking after the safety of kids during their time in the park. Working with children is something I am comfortable with and have experience in, therefore I believe I can benefit a lot from the future volunteer work I will do with DOPC.

With climate change being a major problem that destroys our Earth’s landscapes, it is more important than ever to learn ways to effectively restore and sustain bio-diversity. Connecting this to my SISU-240 course, climate change is the greatest threat to the continuance of international development for poor countries because they are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Regionally and internationally, the impacts of climate change are not felt evenly. Poorer countries do not have the resources to counter or adapt to climate change, as a result, they are most at risk of losing important aspects of their livelihood, such as food security.

The U.S. is a developed nation that has the responsibly of mitigating the climate change that harms our Earth’s natural landscapes and populations. Through volunteering with DOPC, I have gained awareness of the deterioration of landscapes that’s happening right behind our school’s campus. I have greater knowledge on invasive plants, and how to remove them so our landscapes can better flourish in their environment. Volunteering for organizations such as DOPC provides the world with the environmental sustainability needed during a time where climate change is intensifying.

Genna Hewett-Abbott, Iona Senior Services

For the last several months I have been volunteering at Iona Senior Services as part of AU’s Community Service-Learning Program. As a Public Health major, I love volunteering in the community with underserved populations. Working at Iona has exposed me to a wide range of different cultures and backgrounds. I have learned words in several different languages, different national holidays, music and dance routines from a diverse set of cultures. Iona celebrates the differences between its participants and works to ensure everyone feels heard and valued.

As a volunteer at the St. Albans location I help set up for daily activities such as group exercises, small concerts and dance performances and bingo with students from the nearby elementary school. I also prepare and serve lunch and interact with participants by listening to their stories and explaining some technology. I also serve in the Tenleytown location on the weekends by preparing meals to be delivered to seniors who cannot cook meals and during the week in the financial office.

I have previously worked at Iona and jumped at the opportunity to return. The different employees, participants, and other volunteers are all such kind and welcoming people. We all have widely diverse backgrounds and I enjoy comparing our different experiences and thoughts.  Participants jumped at the chance to explain their heritage. One woman explained a Romanian holiday that celebrates grandmothers; another explained how she fled from Germany in 1939 from Hitler as a Jewish child. I value hearing their stories especially as I tied my CSLP service to my multicultural health class. Learning about different cultures both in class and through my experiences at Iona I feel that I am receiving a well-rounded education.

I have been surprised at how useful I have been. Setting up tables and chairs, serving lunch common and helping participant sign in every day seem like small tasks that don’t serve a purpose; however, with a small staff and a large group of participants the smallest job can make a huge impact on the day-to-day activities. I am also surprised at how quickly I’ve formed relationships with the staff, volunteers, and participants. Spending time with the different people at Iona has forged incredible relationships and created lasting memories that all tie in to what I am learning in class. I feel very lucky two have been able to serve at Iona for the last few months. I can only hope that I have touch the lives of those who have touched mine during my experiences at Iona.

Madison Chapman, Horace Mann Elementary School

I am so excited to share my first experiences as a teacher in a classroom setting with you all. From a very young age I’ve always known one thing about myself to be true. I am an extremely passionate person. When I love something I am not shy about it. Two things I am passionate about are the Performing Arts and Education. Therefore, being a double major in Musical Theatre and Performing Arts Education is nothing short of the perfect fit. I am a sophomore completing my Community Service Learning Project (CSLP) in conjunction with my Reading, Writing, and Literature Across Curriculums class at Horace Mann Elementary School in Washington, D.C. I am serving as the Teaching Assistant in the Performing Arts classes, and Assistant Director and Choreographer of their spring musical. I work at Horace Mann two to three days a week for about six hours each week. I am truly enjoying my time at my service site. I am finding new connections to both of my majors each day, while also learning about social issues that can affect classroom climate.

Horace Mann Elementary School’s Mission Statement states, “Horace Mann Elementary School is a lively place of learning where curiosity and connection are celebrated.  With our diverse, multi-national population, we are both a global and close community of learners. We embrace academic choice and responsive teaching. Our recently renovated and expanded campus, which features a rooftop farm, arts classrooms, and an expansive outside playscape, invites us to learn within and beyond our school walls. Serious about our students’ academic growth, we also believe that a school community must be a place of joy and celebration.” I find this mission statement to be completely accurate to the work I am seeing from the teachers and the students at the school. Student choice is evident in multiple forms, evoking the celebrating of curiosity described above. Diversity is a value I cherish dearly and to see it in action is something very special. Additionally, the musical is specifically focused on the Women’s Suffrage Movement, in which the students are learning the importance of standing up for what you believe in and self-advocacy.

Going into my site for the first time was a day filled with mixed emotions. My first reaction was nerves. I began to feel those butterflies in my stomach, as I do before I perform for an audience. And that’s when it clicked for me. There is such a strong intersectionality between my two fields. Teaching is essentially performing for your students each day. You show them your feelings, your thoughts, your needs, and your wants, just as an actor does onstage. With this in mind, my nerves began to ease up. In addition, my mentor teacher was nothing but welcoming and thankful to have me there. I slowly began to feel more comfortable. The students walked in eager to learn and excited to see a new face in the room. I was impressed with the focus and respect they displayed towards my mentor teacher. Her kindness and approachability created a feeling of comfort throughout the room. I loved watching her interactions with the students, and their eagerness to work on the musical they will performing in May. I was expecting to complete many organizational tasks and serve purely as an assistant. However, my mentor teacher immediately began to delegate important tasks to me. I am working side by side with her and really getting hands on experience as a performing arts educator.

The amount of connections I have been able to find between my work at Horace Mann, my Reading and Writing class, and my acting experience is outstanding. Something that we are really focusing on in Reading and Writing is the importance of the talk move, wait time. Allowing students ample time after asking a question to process and think of a response is essential. A common mistake for new teachers is to immediately call on the first person that raises their hand. Teachers often do this because they want the reassurance that someone is understanding the lesson. However, by employing wait time you give more students the opportunity to process and in return will have more participants to choose from. While it may sound like a basic concept, it is a lot harder than one might think. I borrowed the strategy of my Reading and Writing teacher in which she sings “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in her head after asking a question before calling on someone. I’m not going to lie, it is a little awkward. But, I immediately saw the benefits of this strategy. If I had not used wait time I would only have a few students to choose from to call on. Instead, I had many. It was such a confidence booster. The students were actually thinking about the concepts I was teaching them and had thoughts they wanted to share with the class. What a feeling.

Also, oral language strategies such as Turn and Talk have been a staple in the performing arts classes. As I am learning in my Reading and Writing class, getting students to vocalize their own thoughts, and listen to the thoughts of others, is essential to language development. I have been given the opportunity to teach a few mini lessons at my site school. I have done my best to structure them as actual lesson plans in which I present information with examples of application, allow students to ask question, give them a chance to get on their feet and apply the concepts, and check for understanding before moving on. I have loved seeing how music can change a students’ behavior. Some students who really struggle with focus will all of the sudden become model students when music becomes part of the equation. Recognizing how students learn is essential to differentiation.

I think the biggest take away I am getting from my time at Horace Mann is the importance of classroom climate, a topic we have discussed in great depth in Reading and Writing. Without a strong and well-developed classroom climate, meaningful learning and student happiness is out of the question. When my mentor teacher assigned the roles for the musical, many students were disappointed with the size of their roles.  What was truly amazing was seeing how my mentor teacher into damage control mode at the drop of the hat. She was very attuned to the emotions and feelings of the students, even the ones that were not vocalizing their disappointment. This is a result of truly knowing her students, a concept we have been discussing a lot in my Psychology of Education and Reading and Writing class. Knowing your students is essential in creating a positive classroom climate. The way she explained to each student their importance to the show was heart-warming, and seeing smiles come back onto their faces was comforting.

I am so thankful for my time at Horace Mann and for CSLP’s support and guidance through the process.

Nicole Alzapiedi, D.C. Reads

My name is Nicole and I am studying International Relations. My community service project is for my International Development gateway course and I am working for D.C. Reads. At my location I have been tutoring second and third grade students specifically. The afternoon normally starts with reading or math homework, and the tutors provide any help they may need. After they have completed their homework we often go outside. This a time for the kids to unwind and hang out with all of us while playing games and running around.

Going into this program I was looking to gain more experience working with underprivileged kids and helping them improve in whatever areas they needed it. I have always loved working with kids, especially in a school setting, and this was an opportunity for me to grow in my ability to help kids that might struggle a bit more. So far, we have done less one-on-one work than I expected, but I really like that I get to help a variety of kids. Some days I get kids that really struggle with their math and we walk through all of the steps, and other days I have kids that just need reassurance they are doing something right. No matter what though, I have come to realize that I am always helping the students in that classroom and I can see that they gain confidence when we tell them that they are doing a good job.

I was surprised initially by the range in performance level that the kids are at. In a classroom with kids that are within about two years of one another, there is a great variance in what these kids understand when it comes to schoolwork. I went to public school in a middle class town in Massachusetts that did a really good job of keeping kids on track to graduation and helping those who needed it with one-on-one time. Working at this school in Washington D.C. has certainly opened my eyes to the wide range in public schools that can be found around the country. This has only strengthened my passion towards improving education in the United States and around the world because children are clearly being left behind.

I am pairing this program with my International Development gateway and although we have not talked a lot about education development yet, I can see some connections based on what we have learned. We watched a documentary in class that focused on Ladakh, India, which is a community that has been greatly affected by the Development Project. This includes their education system and the fact that the United States enforced its westernized education system on this community. This was an interesting connection to D.C. Reads because I am seeing firsthand how the U.S. education system isn’t even close to helping all of its own students and yet it’s imposing the same system on completely different cultures. The United States needs to work on improving its own education system rather than trying to change other countries.

My biggest takeaway so far is that every student in a classroom is different, and as such we need to treat them that way. Showing a struggling child that you are willing to work with them and that you want them to succeed can make a world of difference. I have learned a lot about teaching kids and working through problems with them and I hope to be able to use that in my career.

Dana Piccirillo, Horton’s Kids

This semester, I hoped to continue stepping out of my comfort zone and go beyond what I previously knew about serving. I looked forward to meeting new people from different backgrounds and creating unique bonds with them. I also looked forward to learning about a new culture while contributing my hard work to projects that would help the community. By focusing my energy on people who could use some help, I will continue to let myself surpass the bubble, becoming less materialistic, and concentrating on more important things.

While working at Horton’s Kids, I have definitely learned a lot about the kids of Anacostia as well as myself. As a Homework Helper, any of the kids that have homework to do can come sit with me, asking me any questions that they may have, or, if they have already completed their homework, they can read a book (or have me read it to them). I also work in their office on Fridays, completing communications and social media related tasks. Although I have never had a terrible experience, and have been proud of every student I have worked with at Homework Help, I have learned that the challenges of volunteering do not always end in hugs and goodbyes. Although some do, not every student makes you feel like you’re a super hero. One student that I tutored was extremely friendly and funny upon arrival; I asked him about his day before working, and after talking for a bit, he was ready to get to work. As we started, it almost seemed as if the work he was assigned to do was a bit more advanced than what he was capable of doing. One of the assignments he was required to complete involved him reading and answering questions about a specific passage. He not only had trouble reading the passage, but he also had trouble writing certain letters. That being said, forming a sentence was a very long, tedious process. I was extremely frustrated by this. I immediately wondered- why would the teachers assign him this homework if he didn’t know how to do it? After having to wake him up and consistently motivating him to finish, I realized how much trouble he would have had if he were to do the homework without another person there. After what felt like hours, he finally finished the packet, and I was so proud of him. We high-fived, he got his snack (a reward for attending homework help sessions), and said a quick goodbye. From this experience, I learned that it is crucial to think about the child’s home environment, and the reasons behind their actions. The kids at Horton’s Kids need extra care and attention, and if I feel tired or helpless, I simply need to remind myself that these kids go through an entire 8-hour day before coming to Homework Help. I now realize that there are many reasons the child was falling asleep while doing homework. Maybe, there is something going on at home, or maybe, he was frustrated with himself because he was already behind on his learning and writing skills. While I will never know, I now understand the importance of keeping the lives of others in mind while volunteering, and putting my feelings after the feelings of the student that I am trying to help.

As for my expectations, I have been pleasantly surprised about my volunteer experience. I have met so many amazing, like-minded people that I hope to stay in touch with. I have also formed relationships with the kids that I see every Wednesday, and look forward to helping them every week. Something that surprised me the most was probably the welcoming that I received from most of the kids involved in the Homework Help program. I feared that they would resent me- I thought that me being there would seem as if I think I am better than them, and that I am trying to “save them” from their reality. However, I didn’t get this feeling at all, and the kids were all so sweet and friendly to me when I first arrived. This also connects to my class because we have stressed the importance of not going into service with the intention of changing someone’s life or “saving them.” This would defeat the entire purpose of serving, and I have definitely seen the importance in doing my service for the simple purpose of helping others, rather than doing it for my own self interest. I have enjoyed my service greatly thus far, and I look forward to volunteering with Horton’s Kids in the future!

Kayla Gangemi, Dance Exchange

Healthy communities make change possible. My name is Kayla, I’m in my Junior year of the Public Health program and this semester I am volunteering at the non-profit organization Dance Exchange located in Takoma Park, Maryland. This is my second time participating in the Community Service-Learning Program, which has allowed me to explore my academic and professional interests through getting to know some amazing organizations, and people that make up the community here in the DC Metro area. This semester, I chose to connect the work that I am doing at Dance Exchange with the Introduction to Public Health course I am currently taking. At first, the relation between this organization and Public Health was not obvious, but after studying abroad in Ecuador, the value of community and identity to health has not intrigued me more. At Dance Exchange, the majority of my work has been assisting with Space Stewardship and Marketing. Cleaning the studios and tacking flyers around the neighborhood may seem like arbitrary work, but through assisting team members at Dance Exchange, I am experiencing some of the ways in which a non-profit organization functions. Right now, I am very excited for a specific project Dance Exchange has asked me to help facilitate next month. During April, Dance Exchange will be partnering with Brookside Gardens Nature Center in Silver Spring, Maryland to bring together science education and movement. During this time, I hope to learn more about how dance and understanding of ourselves within the environment can work hand in hand.

I chose to work with Dance Exchange for the Community Service-Learning Program this semester, not only because I rediscovered a love for dance again – in the same way that I enjoy community service – but also because this program lets me support an innovative organization with holistic values, and a drive to make change. Over the course of the past couple of months, I have learned that the local Dance Exchange is a non-discriminating space for people to come to together and practice diverse forms of dance from an array of backgrounds. Beyond locally, Dance Exchange finds itself in different settings around the country, embodying the ways in which place and community co-exist. Thinking about the context of health that most people here in the United States are familiar with; hospitals, dieting and health insurance may be some of the major features that come to mind. In my opinion, two of the most interesting and relevant topics that I have learned about in Introduction to Public Health are the social determinants of health as well as loneliness. These topics have prompted me to think in-depth about the ways in which factors like neighborhood, education and sense-of-self contribute to condition of population health. In these explorations, the importance of alternative approaches to public health – such as through community gardening, arts for social change, and educational programming – becomes increasingly apparent. I believe that these outlets have the potential to alleviate great public health burdens such as depression, malnutrition, sedentary lifestyles and hate. Although community service is one way that I do my part, I also value service for the exchanged reminder that I am part of a whole. I feel like with this peace of mind it is nearly impossible to ignore the ways in which health is influenced by a multitude of factors.

Laurel Clark, Dumbarton Oaks Conservancy

My name is Laurel Clark and I am double major in Environmental Studies and Public Relations and Strategic Communication. The volunteer work that I am doing at the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy with the after-school environmental education program is connected to my Environmental Science class (ENVS-260-003). My role as a volunteer is to aid Alisha Camacho with her lesson plans and activities.

Recently we had the students draw two pictures of an area in Washington D.C., such as the Potomac River, one picture including natural resources such as trees and large bodies of water and another absent of all natural resources. This activity encourages conversation about the importance of our environment and what feelings are prompted when those areas become desolate, which the students have realized is becoming a reality that they must not only face, but also figure out how to change through innovative solutions.

Often times, the activities are discussion based so the students can share their ideas and engage in meaningful conversations that teach them about the importance of perspective and respect for ideas that may diverge from their own. I expected to meet a group of children who had a basic understanding of their fragile and endangered environment. I also expected to further my own teaching skills. Not only have the students shown me that they are connected to their environment; they have shown me in subtle ways—whether through short conversations I overhear or comments aimed directly at me—that they recognize and appreciate the intricate relationship between the natural environment and the strength of their communities.

I have learned how to teach and plan an effective lesson that puts forth the idea that we may not know how important our environmental resources are until they are gone, as well as how to listen. My lesson plan was centered on the vitality of community gardens and the constant threat they are under, especially when the land is not protected by the state. The students then began talking amongst themselves asking why people wanted to replace a garden with warehouses as the garden provided the community with food and a sense of purpose. They not only questioned why the land wasn’t seen as valuable by developers, but also what could be done to stop this land removal from happening in the future. They then drew their own perfect parks and worked on including the benefits they believe to be integral to any open green space. Before this happened, a debate took place between one student and three others, the one student believed that TV’s may have a place in the park because it could help people stay informed as they would have easy access to the news. The other students challenged him and maintained that the TV would distract visitors from their surroundings and would decrease the amount of time they spent interacting with and enjoying the natural world. It is these conversations that the students have, the ones about clean water and the right to trees, and the debates they have over what makes a community strong that gives me faith that the coming generation will be able to conjure up a solution to the growing problems presented by climate change.

This volunteer work relates directly back to my class in many ways. One of the units we focused on was water pollution, which was a theme discussed in one of the lessons when the students were tasked with figuring out how water becomes polluted and what measures need to be taken to clean that water. The biggest takeaway that I have is that education is truly the means by which we will be able to recognize the mistakes we have made, the harm we have done to our environment and, by extension, to each other, and move forward with bright new ideas in hand and a troop of leaders and followers in tow.

Anisa Shafiq, Kid Power

When I tell people I’m focusing on education studies, (it won’t be on my degree, but I’ve taken a lot of classes in the field!) the first response I usually get is, “Oh wow – so do you want to be a teacher?” As a senior at AU who is actually majoring in Sociology and is expected to be a teacher, I have surprisingly never worked with children. Kid Power is a non-profit whose mission is to promote academic advancement, physical and emotional wellness, and positive civic engagement in under-served communities throughout the District of Columbia. I am helping them achieve this at Jefferson Middle School by helping run an after school program for three hours twice a week.

During the program, we reserve thirty minutes for socialization, an hour for homework, typically thirty to forty-five minutes for a group activity, and the remainder of the time is spent on the playground. When I first started volunteering with Kid Power, my sole motivation was to use it purely as a line for my resume. After graduation, I intend to serve with the Peace Corps as an educator abroad (does that make the answer to people’s question yes?), and I have been told by recruiters that volunteering/mentoring “inner city” students would make me a competitive applicant.

However, now after completing almost two months of service I feel like the kids are teaching me more than I am teaching them. I used to dread making the trek down to L’Enfant Plaza twice a week. It was pretty brutal – but now as the kids make me feel like they actually look forward to me being there, I leave school every day feeling fulfilled. Don’t get me wrong – there are hard days (and I mean really hard days) – on these days the kids are disrespectful, obnoxious, and sometimes just plain mean. But on the good days, I can sit with a student for forty-five minutes, and help them finish their homework, and be greeted at the end of it with a big “thank you”.

Feeling like I’ve gotten through to one student each day I am there is worth the long trip and time out of my busy schedule.  The class that I am completing this Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) is Urban Lives, and I can draw many parallels between my course material and the work that I am doing at Jefferson. I notice a difference in the way the that the students interact with me versus my site coordinator, who is an employee of Kid Power. This is the central question of ethnography that I am completing for my course. I really was not sure what to expect when I started this semester at Jefferson Middle School. I think that I have a lot to learn, and a lot of growing to do, but I am looking forward to finishing up the semester with these students, saying good bye to some of them at the end of this school term, welcoming a new batch of incoming students, and working with Kid Power for quite some time.

Julia Burnell, FAIR Girls

My name is Julia Burnell and I am a first year public health major. This semester, I’m volunteering at an organization called FAIR Girls. FAIR Girls is a non-profit that works with girls worldwide to prevent exploitation by educating and empowering them, as well as by helping victims get back on their feet. One service that FAIR Girls offers is a home, called the Vida Home, for girls who are in between safe places to live and thrive. Homeless women are especially susceptible to exploitation, so by providing them with a safe place to live while transitioning, FAIR Girls is meeting an essential need for these women.

I volunteer at the Vida Home and it is an incredibly rewarding experience. My service allows me to see firsthand the progress that clients are making as they work to reach their goals. Prior to beginning this work, I had not had any experience working with trauma victims and didn’t really have any idea of what that would be like. I feel like it’s easy to oversimplify this kind of situation, to break it into the “before” and “after” of an unsafe situation.  Escaping an abuser doesn’t mean that someone is immediately okay, and that is okay. That’s why I think the services that FAIR Girls offers are so important. They help girls work through their “after” so they are better equipped to have the kind of life they want and deserve.

As in any endeavor, I have high points and low points as a volunteer. While I enjoy that I have a decent amount of responsibility in my position, it can be stressful because I worry about doing things wrong or handling situations poorly. Also, it can be emotionally challenging at times because many of the clients are close in age to me. However, I do feel like my age sometimes makes clients feel more comfortable talking to me. It definitively gives me a sense of my privilege when I think about how different my childhood and life has been from theirs, all due to factors outside of either of our control. At the end of the day, it is so inspiring to see the clients reach their goals, whether that is something tangible like getting a job, or more emotional, like coming to terms with a past event. These girls have overcome so much and it’s beautiful to watch them continue to strive to reach more of their goals.

Every day is different, but each time I volunteer I feel like I’ve helped someone. This hasn’t been the case with all my volunteer experiences. While I understand that volunteering is not about me but instead is about giving an organization what it needs, it is nice to enjoy what I do. By getting to interact with the clients on a personal level, I’ve gained knowledge that I simply would not have if I were working in a more administrative role. I’ve attached this credit to my Issues in Women’s Health class and it has enhanced my learning because human trafficking and abuse are not subjects we have covered, so this project has allowed me to get a broader sense of these issues than I otherwise would have.

Carl Amritt, The Roosevelt Institute

The defining quality of a leader is that instead of focusing on doing things right, they focus on doing the right things. The “right things” are matters both moral and ethical in nature where leaders have to make judgments in situations in order for the group to successful. In SPA 396: Leaders and Leadership, we understand leaders as having to face dilemmas that require choices between competing sets of values and priorities that makes doing the right thing incredibly difficult. In my own service work, I have realized this process of decision-making requires an immense amount of courage and willpower to do what is right even when the answer is plain in sight.

In working with the Roosevelt Institute, I have been completing my service work with Floridians for a Fair Democracy, a statewide coalition, spearheading a ballot initiative to amend Florida’s Constitution to repeal the Jim Crow-era policy that bars Floridians with a felony conviction from the polls. Florida is only one-of-four states in the country with a lifetime ban on voting upon conviction of a felony. No wonder then, that Florida is the state in the country with the largest concentration of former felons who are unable to vote— totaling to be more than 1.6 million.

Before I began working with the coalition, the solution appeared simple. If a convict has completed the terms of their sentence and paid their debt to society, they should have their voting rights restored. However, this issue turned out to be more nuanced than one would expect. After speaking with elected officials and community organizations across the state, it became increasingly apparent that the right to vote is a politically complicated matter where notions of personal prejudices having got in the way of what is ethically or morally right. In the process, the vote itself has been politicized leading to the disenfranchisement of millions of hardworking, tax-paying citizens. These conflicting personal prejudices have caused partisanship in the Florida legislature and has stalled all attempts to pass a bill for the restoration of voting rights.

As a community organizer for Floridians for a Fair Democracy, I have been working on a referendum that aims to shift the decision-making power from the gridlocked legislature to the voters. In a dysfunctional political system, ballot referendums allow for engagement in direct democracy and places the power back into the hands of the constituents. In my role, I have worked to build out the engagement strategy of the initiative and broaden its presence to 9 different college and universities across the state. We have been organizing to place our amendment on the 2018 General Election ballot. In October, we were successful in collecting the 76,632 petitions necessary to trigger a legal review by Florida’s Attorney General and Florida Supreme Court. If approved, we will have until the General Election to collect 766,200 (eight percent of turnout from the previous presidential election) necessary to place it on the ballot. The last several months we have worked to developed a set of organizing tools including a fact sheet, info-graphic, and a set of talking points to assist other college organizers to collect petitions and raise awareness about the issue on their college campus.

In both my course and service work, I have encountered one of the most common ethical dilemmas that leaders from all fields face. Theorist Rushworth Kidder identifies this as being an ethical dilemma of Justice versus Mercy that is common to our experiences of leadership. Kidder explains that this paradigm guides our decision-making as to whether to excuse a person’s misbehavior because of the extenuating circumstances that drove them to commit a wrong. What I have learned from my service work is that once someone commits a wrong and pays restitution to society, they have showed they are deserving of a second chance and mercy. Being able to forgive, learn, and move on are key qualities of leadership that constitutes our ethics and morals. In my own work, I have learned the importance of understanding the reasons that lead to “criminal” behavior from a holistic point of view and understand the societal driving factors at play. By understanding these factors, we can begin the process of forgiveness and allow our citizens reintegrate back into society and move from past our personal prejudices.

In short, we have to hold leaders accountable for their actions and inaction on policies that stand to unite us civically as a nation. We must expect nothing short of courageous in times of difficulty and controversy and hope they will do what is right and not what is politically convenient. It is only then we can end felon disenfranchisement in Florida and restore the voting rights to millions. Until then, we have a lot of work to do.


Carl Amritt is a Political Science student pursuing a Masters in Public Administration in the School of Public Affairs at American University. Carl is enrolled in Dr. Paul Christopher Manuel’s SPA 396: Leaders and Leadership course that aims to understand some of the main concerns of leadership studies including civic virtue, politics, and freedom in relation to public affairs. To learn more about Carl’s work, visit:

Stephanie Lopez, CentroNía

Prior to my service learning experience this semester, I always had a cynical view on service learning thinking it did not create a lot of positive results. I assumed that because the service time was being condensed to a semester and graded, that the participants were more interested in looking good and getting A’s rather than the actually service. However, once I began having discussions with other students on service learning in my writing course called, Rewriting the Starfish Story, my mindset began changing. The discussions we held in class made me rethink what I thought service learning could be and I refocused my attention towards finding my place in service. I began seeing that everyone had different ideas and strengths when it came to service and what they wanted in return. Thus, my goal when serving has become to create a reciprocal process for myself and those I served.

Working at CentroNía has been a tough and incredibly enjoyable experience. As tutor to three students, I have been surprised about how much I love working with kids and how exhausting they can be. My expectations when I started working for CentroNía was that it would be easy and that the students would appreciate my work daily. But that is not true at all. Hence, the most important things I have learned so far are patience and persistence. Every time one of my students is too tired or not in the mood to do work, I have to remember that they have just come for 8 hours of school and are probably more tired than me. Also, I have learned how to connect the games we play to lessons; for example, if they need a break we play hang-man but I make sure the they use their vocabulary words so they can practice.

Additionally, I have learned to be realistic with my students and myself. In beginning, I wanted to be everything for my students and help them outside of just tutoring. However, I quickly learned that I could not be all those things. As a busy college student and not having a lot experience mentoring, I quickly had a reality check that I should not do more than I could keep up with. Also, not all students needed or wanted that from me. I assumed that they would want me to part of their lives outside of CentroNía but that was me being selfish and having a savior complex. Thus, I have learned that being honest and realistic is key to make sure that the students and I are always on the same page so no one is let down. Furthermore, making an honest plan on what you can accomplish with service learning can help make things easier to manage and have positive results instead of letting things fall apart.

Another place I have been serving is Thrive DC. I have no previous experience working with the homeless community or adults and going in I was very nervous. But my nerves and questions about working with homeless women ended on my first day. Working with Thrive DC as given me the opportunity to learn about a community that has a lot of harmful misconceptions from the public. My role at Thrive is to keep the women who come for dinner company, and this has given me the opportunity to learn about their stories and how homelessness cannot be fit into one box. The women all have different backgrounds with some being college graduates, workers in low earning jobs, and others addicts. Some of them still have homes but just want company in a safe place and others see this an escape from the streets. Also, almost all of them are open and kind and want someone to talk to. Thus, serving for Thrive has helped me see the reciprocal process discussed in my writing class because while the women have me to talk to, I have been given the privilege to learn from them homeless and living in DC.

Has I continue my service learning with CentroNía and Thrive DC I have become more conscious about my role as a volunteer and what I can do for those I serve. My cynical view of service learning has been eliminated because I have encountered amazing changes from the students and women I serve weekly. From my students actually being happy to see me and understanding the lessons who are doing to the women being more open to talk about their experiences. Also, I have seen myself change, I have become more open minded and patience because I know those I serve need that from me. I very happy to continue this work and I know it can only get better.

Jasnaaz Tung, Humanwire

News outlets throughout the world have a lot to say about Syrian refugees; they’re flooding into Europe, the sheer numbers are overwhelming, and they might be harboring extremists. We might see flashing numbers about how many people have left Syria, how many are accepted into Germany, and what the economic burden is for the UK; but, we never talk about how every single refugee is first and foremost another human being. Each displaced person has been forced to abandon their lives for the sake of survival.

I currently work for an organization trying to humanize refugees for the general public. Ultimately, telling their stories helps motivate the browsers to acknowledge the quality of life for the average refugee and hopefully donate what they can to help those less fortunate. Humanwire was founded by Andre Baron in response to the growing displacement of Syrians and the lacking response by the international community. Humanwire accepts refugee applications from countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Cameroon, and more. Then, thorough background checks to validate the identities, stories, and connections of the applicants so that everyone involved has never been involved in the persecution of others. After this extensive process, online profiles are created to provide a brief description of their circumstances and indicate readiness for sponsorship. This is the step of the process in which I work with Humanwire. Sponsorship is the final step in which a browser can select a refugee and launch a campaign to crowdsource money to alleviate the hardships faced by these people. The truly unique thing about Humanwire is that they offer the facilities to watch your donations translate into critical aid for other people. You can send one-on-one items to someone you wish to support and receive photographic proof. None of the aide provided benefits Humanwire in any way.

In this process, I play a very small part. As a volunteer, I have the privilege to synthesize the profile description of each applicant from information translated by on-the-ground volunteers. Thus far I have been able to work on two profiles of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. It has surprised me that their concerns aren’t far off from those of any other person. One of the profiles I wrote up was about a mother who just wanted to pay rent and the fees to continue the education of her three kids. Another mother was concerned about the debt her family has already accrued in Lebanon. These women braved volatile borders to flee ISIS violence or state sponsored massacres and they just want to return to normalcy for their children. In a world landscape focused on painting their journey as an extremist Trojan Horse, Humanwire helps normalize the people by telling their stories. This experience has been an add on to my course in Migration and Development with Professor Tazreena Sajjad of SIS within American University. While the course covers the expanse of forced and voluntary migrants, it also takes into account the current rhetoric around migrants— especially refugees. A couple of our lectures have dealt directly with the difference between the reality of the current refugee crises and these lectures have been definitely enriched with the addition of my Humanwire experience. As an SIS student, I have found that too often the academic rarely connects with the reality but this community service based experience with Humanwire has truly bridged this gap for me.

Sabrina Lynne, Rooting DC


About a month ago, I had the pleasure of volunteering at Rooting DC. Unsure of what to expect, I arrived at 8:30 and made my way to the volunteer check in. There I met Brittany Stewart, volunteer coordinator for Rooting DC and my point person for CSLP. She signed me in and I headed up front to help check in attendees. I spent the first half of the day, from 8:30 to 12:30, greeting people from all over the DMV and the greater mid-Atlantic. I was pleased to see such a diverse group of people attending the event! The crowd was composed of people with diverse economic, racial, educational, and professional backgrounds. I was particularly excited to see such a wide range of age among the attendees. Families with small children, college students, young professionals, and senior citizens all flocked to Woodrow Wilson High School that morning to explore our local sustainable agriculture movement.

Once I finished checking people in, I took a short lunch break and perused the many tables set up in the atrium of Woodrow Wilson High School. I stopped by the Love and Carrots table to visit the people I worked with over the summer, learned about Compost Cab (the convenient compost service for busy city dwellers), and spent some time at the DC Food Policy Council stand. I was struck by the tight-knit feeling of the local sustainable agriculture community here in DC. It seemed like everyone knew each other and was happy and eager to learn from one another. As lunch drew to a close, I was tasked with helping presenters set up their rooms and take attendance. Fortunately I was able to attend some workshops myself. The first workshop I went to was the one that stuck out to me most. It was comprised of seven short presentations from a variety of community members. I was especially struck by the presentation given by two men who run Dix Street Garden, and the Dix Street Garden slogan “Turning Hustlers into Harvesters.” They told the story of how Dix Street Garden came to be, detailing the struggle they had with the city to acquire the abandoned land, and taking us through the process of how their marginalized community used their agency to reclaim space. One of the men told us that he was a returning citizen and said that he likely would have ended up back in jail had it not been for this project. The story of the Dix Street Garden reminded me of our class discussions about land tenure, private property, and the value of communal living. I am eager to learn more about the impact of community garden projects in DC, particularly those in DC’s marginalized communities. Urban agriculture appears to be growing throughout the city, and it has the potential to positively impact areas that are food insecure. That being said, I am curious as to how urban farms function differently when they are imposed from an external group, such as Love and Carrots, compared to projects that emerge from the grassroots of a community, e.g. Dix Street Garden.

Volunteering for DC Greens at Rooting DC was a truly immersive experience that helped my link many of the concepts discussed in our Political Ecology of Food and Agriculture class together. It gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the region who are engaging with sustainable agriculture, and it opened my eyes to the bounty of work that needs to be done. From composting to labor policy, Rooting DC displayed the robust community that is working towards a more just and delicious food system! In the next few weeks I am very much looking forward to working with DC Greens at the K Street farm and getting my hands in the soil.

Jeta Luboteni, We Are Family

My name is Jeta Luboteni and I am a senior majoring in International Relations and minoring in Sociology. The class that I am connecting my volunteering to is SOCY-553: Intersectionality. I am volunteering with We Are Family, which delivers groceries to low income seniors in Columbia Heights and all over DC. This organization has only 2 full time staff, Co-Directors Mark Andersen and Tulin Ozdeger, so it relies on volunteers to deliver the food via car or foot to the seniors that need it. Every month, volunteers meet in the Kelsey Apartments in Columbia Heights and assemble in groups to go around the city and take grocery bags or boxes to the homes of seniors.

Before starting this project, I had volunteered with this site before. I particularly liked it because of its commitment to doing its part to alleviate the effects of gentrification. It is also very nice to interact with longtime DC residents and hear their stories. Along with delivering groceries, the organization does advocacy work for the residents, depending on their situations. In the class with which I am connecting my service, we study how oppressions intersect and multiply. One way We Are Family (WAF) addresses this is by being committed to fighting all forms of oppression and their unique manifestations. For example, Racism, Classism, Sexism, Ageism, etc. They serve residents of all sorts of ethnic backgrounds and have volunteers who speak Spanish to make services more accessible to the Spanish-speaking residents.

Another way WAF addresses intersectionality is by emphasizing the history of the residents and the city. Every time the volunteers assemble to unload the truck, Mark explains why the volunteers are important and why the seniors are in this situation. He explains the historical factors contributing to the situation, as well as what the seniors have been through in that area (the riots after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the drug war, etc.) He explains that the economic situation is not the fault of the seniors, and it is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something that needs to be addressed, and everyone should try to do what they can. It was not necessarily a surprise, but it is nevertheless important to note that many of the seniors are former government workers or had good jobs. But the price of living in that area is just unattainable, so they require assistance.

Besides volunteering, there is more that we can do. We can be mindful of where we choose to live, so that we do not contribute to kicking people out of their homes. We can contact and pressure local governments to limit policies that gentrify. And we can talk to our friends and make sure that they know what is going on in the District, and in cities all over the United States. No one deserves to lose their home simply because they retired. We Are Family also stresses the importance of community, so volunteering there is an important way of showing that. Living in Washington, D.C. should be a chance to show solidarity with the residents, especially those who have been living here for so long and are now at risk of losing their homes due to wealthy millennials seeing their properties as desirable.

German Figueroa, Reading Partners

My name is German Figueroa and I am a sophomore studying Psychology at American University. For the last couple of weeks, I have had the privilege to take part in a critical thinking community-based learning program. The program allows me to spend time off campus working with a non-profit where I can apply skills that I am learning in the classroom to my community work. I am part of the CAS Leadership and Ethical Development program, where I am currently enrolled in a leadership discussion based course. Utilizing the tools and skills acquired in this course, I have linked this seminar to community work with a non-profit called Reading Partners.

The seminar teaches us to look at the places that are commonly neglected and find where leadership is needed. Some of the things I learned were shocking; for example, only 26% of kids in the 3rd grade were on track for the next grade level regarding reading proficiency. Studies show “Only four in 10 D.C. third-graders are proficient readers.” Why is this important? Only because these results have shown a huge correlation with 3rd-grade reading proficiency can be a predictor of the kid’s future academic success. For example, 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th-grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

The leadership program encourages my peers and I to find places where there is a lack of leadership and to become involved. The problem is that by the end of 3rd grade some of our kids are being set up to fail. I joined Reading Partners through DC Reads as a Team-Leader, where I am in charge of training and supporting American University students who are giving an extra hand to public school teachers from underprivileged communities by tutoring kids that need extra assistance with literacy.

This opportunity has allowed me to figure out what my role is and what professional interests I see myself pursuing after I graduate from American University. I would like to teach for an elementary or middle school, as I feel that is a crucial time where kids are most impacted from the environment around them, and I want to become a part of positively shaping their minds. That age is a huge determining factor, and I think that with my background and interpersonal skills that I can bring a lot to the table. I am going to begin to look more into projects like Teach for America, to figure out where I best fit.

Nicholas Kram Mendelsohn, TamalFest

This semester I volunteered with several groups throughout the Washington D.C. metro area, and was exposed to a variety of different NGO-related volunteer opportunities.  From collection-drives to staffing community culture fairs, my experience working with different organizations through the Community-Service Learning Program truly expanded my understanding of D.C. and its diversity.

My day spent working with Hola Cultura, a non-profit organization dedicated to “offering tribute to Latino culture” at their second annual TamalFest was probably my most enjoyable and memorable experience.  TamalFest, an all-day event held at Bell Multicultural Elementary School in Columbia Heights, is arranged by Hola Cultura in order to highlight local cooks specializing in Latin American cuisine, as well as provide a community event that forms a “bridge between those interested in cultural events and its producers.”

I arrived to TamalFest at 9am on a Sunday, and immediately got to work with a few other local volunteers arranging tables in the cafeteria of Bell Multicultural Elementary School for the cooks to offer their tamales and other cuisine.  Following this, we helped local Latin American-style folk artisans set up their stations along the hallway leading to the entrance to the Cafeteria.  These artisan stations were an additional part of TamalFest, designed to highlight additional aspects of Latin American culture and provide a space for local artists to sell their wares.  After working for several hours arranging tables, hanging decorations, helping cooks and artists set up their stations, and filling balloons, the doors finally opened to the public, and the smell of cooking Tamale quickly filled the cafeteria.

Several hours later, the visitors to TamalFest voted on their favorite tamale’s from the event, and the TamalFest People’s Choice Awards were given out.  The People’s Choice Award is meant to include the community directly in the event by having them vote, while also providing an award that can be displayed in the cook’s restaurants.  Following this, myself and the other TamalFest volunteers and staff broke down the event, and worked with school staff to return everything to its proper place.

I loved taking part in this event because it allowed me to gain exposure to a part of the D.C. community that I previously had not had much experience with, and also because it allowed me to support a community organization in its work raising up Latino voices and the arts.  I loved getting to work with so many different people at TamalFest, and especially enjoyed the delicious cuisine that I got to snack on after the event ended.  If you are interested in this year’s TamalFest winners, please check out these two videos!

Kadija Bah, Martha’s Table

When I found out that my global hunger class requires students to volunteer at an offsite nonprofit, I was not too happy about it. When would I find the time to volunteer? Do the hours include the travel time? Maybe I’ll go to the closest organization in the area with the most glamorous work? These thoughts flooded my mind and it ended up being a burden just to pick a location. Initially, my heart was closed to the idea of spending the little energy that I have on others, when sometimes I don’t even have enough for myself. Luckily, my experience at Martha’s Table changed my mentality and opened my eyes toward the importance of volunteering as well as understanding the homeless issues in the city.

When I was a freshman, I knew I wanted to give back to the community in some shape or form. I volunteered with Meals on Wheels, a food delivery program to senior citizenships, but I was looking for a volunteer opportunity that catered to different individuals. Shortly after that, I signed up for a shift at Martha’s Table, and participated in McKenna’s Wagon, a program that offers meals from a truck. I slowly became busier but returned to this site because of this class. To be honest, I’m glad I did.

Early last month, I walked onto 14th street and instantly noticed the gentrification. When one looks to the left, there are upscale restaurants and condominiums, but on the right, there are shaggy apartments and small businesses. Martha’s table is located on the less glamorous side of the street, and many low-income individuals stood around the place; almost as a place of food safety and a community space. When I first entered Martha’s table, I expected to interact with the homeless during meal times and spend the majority of the time with other volunteers in the kitchen. Luckily, my supervisor equally divided my time between interacting with clients and serving behind-the-scenes. I had the freedom to choose what task I wanted to work on and whether I wanted to continue in the kitchen or dining area. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to speak to the clients about their personal experiences due to the amount of people who came to eat a meal. While I could get a sense of the organization’s role and the work Martha’s Table is doing, I was exposed to some of the issues surrounding homeless residents themselves.

During my second shift at Martha’s Table, I volunteered with my classmate Nancy. I thought we were just going to help clean up like last time, but in this Food Wrap-Up Program, we were able to serve dinner from 4:00pm to 4:45pm. As we set up our serving station, many people were lined up around the back of the building. The staff gave the volunteers advice on how to talk to the clients and urged us to see them as regular human beings in a difficult situation, not victims. I thought about how those who have the power to dictate how the marginalized are treated or represented often treat others as “less than.” The marginalized were portrayed and treated like people who just needed to be helped, but there isn’t any focus on the complexities, depth, or nuances of the individual.

I decided I did not want to treat the homeless as inferior at all, and I could tell they didn’t know whether I would act awkwardly around them. After reflecting on this, I made the effort to smile, make eye contact, and say “How are you?” I wanted to treat them like human beings and they noticed it too. It was important not to just serve their food and rush them out of the line, but I could tell they wanted to have a conversation with the new volunteers. The staff would say things like, “I haven’t seen you in a while, are you doing okay?” or “are you going to get the turkeys in Southeast for thanksgiving?” Everyone was glad to hear genuine, friendly conversations. The responses ranged from “good, can’t complain” to “not so good, I’m looking for a job.” Through their responses, I realized that the issues of homelessness are not limited to not having money for a meal, but lack of employment or housing as well. I even snuck a few extra treats for those that asked for them, because, at that moment, I could see not just another homeless person, but a friend who needed a late night snack. During that moment, I noticed that I had lost my heart for the homeless while being in the city, because I see homeless on almost every corner; these interactions reminded me that each individual was complex and important. In the future, I will definitely stop in my journey to say a greetings and ask how their day is going.

Throughout dinner, I was in charge of distributing lemonade, but I noticed how we ask the clients, “what would you like?” rather than stuff food into a bag or just direct people to take it. The clients also didn’t touch any of the food, but we serve them. This volunteer-client dynamic allowed the homeless person to feel respected, especially when they may not receive respect on a daily basis.

When we offered the homeless the food choices during dinner, some clients would ask “what is in there?” or “who cooked it?” or “Can you leave that out?” These requests were not due to food allergies, but personal preference. They also have many nonprofit organizations in DC that they could go to for dinner, so the access to this food allows them to be more selective. Martha’s Table always strives to serve nutritional meals to the homeless. For instance, they used whole-wheat bread for the sandwiches, chicken with brown rice for the Cuban chicken, rice and beans, semi-sweetened lemonade, and lots of water. After everyone was served, most individuals would sit and eat together in the parking lot. I also thought about my personal experiences, of how people are more likely to gather when food is present.

Overall, my volunteer experience was memorable and pleasant. I learned that one cannot assume that homeless people look a certain way or live a certain lifestyle. People from all walks of life used the nonprofit’s food service, and these individuals may just need a helping hand in a temporary and difficult situation. I also noticed the complexities of each individual; one cannot just see one as homeless and neglect their likes, dislikes, and environment. Originally, I thought I’d just be making some sandwiches and checking off hours for a class, but I ended up reflecting on myself and how I see the homeless in a new perspective.